Sunday, July 7, 2019

Pakistan was better than New Zealand, and it had a Great World Cup 2019

As the ICC World Cup 2019 enters the knock-out phase, there has been endless debate over whether the deserving four teams entered the semi finals or not.

Most of this debate focused on the fact that Pakistan had a far better league phase than New Zealand did, but the latter qualified for the semi finals on the basis of a superior net run rate, after both teams were tied on 11 points with 5 wins and a rained off game each.

There was also debate on whether Net Run Rate is the best metric to decide who qualifies, and whether Pakistan could have done any thing to improve its Net Run Rate.

WAS PAKISTAN THE BETTER TEAM?

It most definitely was!

Pakistan's 5 wins were against the number 1,4,5,7, and 10 ranked ODI teams. New Zealand's 5 wins were against the number 5,7,8,9, and 10 ranked ODI teams.

Pakistan beat 3 teams ranked above them! New Zealand beat none of the teams ranked above them.

Pakistan's rained off match was against the number 8 ranked ODI team. New Zealand's was against the number 2 ranked team.

Pakistan beat two of the eventual semi finalists. New Zealand did not beat either of the semifinalists.

Pakistan beat the favorites - a team that two of the semifinalists could not beat. New Zealand did not even come close!

But, New Zealand's net run rate was better so here we are.

IS NET RUN RATE THE BEST METRIC?

No it is not.

You can read some of the detailed pieces on NRR here and here.

Yes, net run rate is utter nonsense.

You can also see what the experts are saying.




COULD PAKISTAN HAVE IMPROVED ITS NET RUN RATE?

My stance on this is that it could not have unfortunately.

What Pakistan could have done (and should have) was try and avoid a big loss against the West Indies. Once their net run rate went to -5.8 or thereabouts, there was no coming back from that.

That was the match that destroyed Pakistan's NRR and no matter that they did in the following matches, it was next to impossible to improve that.

Let me explain further.

In hindsight, and considering Pakistan's 94 run win over Bangladesh, this is what Pakistan needed to do in its matches against South Africa, New Zealand, and Afghanistan to take its NRR over New Zealand's:

Beat South Africa by 100 runs (instead of 49 runs)
Chase target against New Zealand in 37 overs (instead of 49.1)
Chase target against Afghanistan in 30 overs (instead of 49.4)

Do you think that was possible?

Against South Africa, perhaps a 100 run win was possible had Pakistan not dropped those 6 catches.

Chasing 237 against New Zealand in 37 overs was unlikely. Pakistan could have tried maybe, but the wicket was turning square and Pakistan batsmen decided to see off Santner, which was smart as Pakistan did not lose any wickets to him. What if Pakistan had failed to chase the total in an attempt to chase it quickly? The two points were more important than NRR improvement.

Chasing 228 in 30 overs is not easy. Afghanistan possess the best spin bowling attack in the world so to get them away at over 7.5 an over is quite tough.

Had Pakistan tried, they might have been in the same position they actually were in, 156-6, and it would have still required a rearguard from Imad Wasim, resulting in a last over win.

So no, NRR improvement was not an option for Pakistan.

In the losses against Australia and India, Pakistan in fact improved its NRR so the argument that they didn't try in those games is also invalid.

Against Australia, Pakistan had fallen to 160-6 and then 200-7, in a chase of 307. So getting to 266 from 160-6 was in fact NRR improvement. A 100 run loss there would have made it worse!

Against India, Pakistan scored 46 runs off the final 5 overs, in a match that they had lost well before that stage. Those 46 runs at over 9 an over improved Pakistan's NRR.

So no, there was no way Pakistan could improve its NRR, to a level that would have gotten them ahead of New Zealand's, after that hammering from the West Indies.

Let us go back to 21st June 2019. On that day, Sri Lanka beat England and provided an opening to not only itself, but also to Pakistan and Bangladesh.

For Pakistan, it was straight forward - win its last 4 matches and then hope for either of the following:

1. Australia to lose to England, New Zealand, and South Africa.
2. England to lose to two of Australia, India, and New Zealand.
3. New Zealand to lose to West Indies, Pakistan, Australia, England.
4. New Zealand to lose to three of the above with Pakistan's NRR going above New Zealand's.

Pakistan's analysts would have done the calculations and the team would have ruled out scenario 4 right away given the unrealistic numbers. Winning each game by 120 odd runs or chasing totals in 30 odd overs was never going the happen.

Winning those 4 games and gaining 2 points from each game was more important than looking to improve NRR at the same time.

Pakistan's best bet was to win its 4 remaining matches and hope for either of scenario 1,2, or 3 to play out.

Pakistan won its last 4 matches. It did its bit. It pretty much thrashed everyone, except for Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, neither of scenario 1,2, or 3 played out.

WHERE NOW FOR PAKISTAN?

It was a sad end to an excellent World Cup campaign for the Greens.

Speak to any of the journalists or personnel that was around the team for the past month and they will tell you how hard the boys worked.

To pick themselves up after losses to Australia and India, and after they were ridiculed for eating burgers and pizzas and going out for sheesha, is no small task.

Only the Pakistanis can showcase such resilience, forgive disrespectful fans, and go on to thank them.

This World Cup campaign was arguably the best one Pakistan had this century. World Cups in 2003, 2007, and 2015 were disasters and Pakistan required rebuilding after each one following an exodus of under performing seniors.

World Cup 2011 was a good one and remains the only campaign where Pakistan reached the semifinals in the 21st century.

However, I rank Pakistan's performance in 2019 above that one in 2011 as Pakistan beat higher quality opposition in 2019 and was just unlucky not to qualify for the semifinals.

There is some thinking to be done, but at least there is no need to rebuild.

Pakistan's future is bright with a core of talented and young individuals who have provided the promise of turning into superstars for Pakistan in the years to come.

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