For Pakistan, it feels like 1992 all over again. Similar World Cups, thirty years apart.
Back then, they scraped through the group stage of the 50-over World Cup after bouncing back from a series of early defeats. They did the same this year in the 20-over version.
Back then, they beat New Zealand in the semi-final. Just like this year. Back then, they defeated England in the final at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. This year? Well, we shall see.
In 1992, captain Imran Khan urged his Pakistan side to “fight like cornered tigers”, saying nothing was more dangerous, and they went on to pull off a dramatic turnaround victory.
Current skipper Babar Azam does not seem like a man who uses such dramatic words to get his message across but whatever he has done has worked.
Pakistan were on the brink of elimination after a last-ball defeat to Zimbabwe but are now on the brink of a third World Cup title, having also won the T20 version in England in 2009.
In 1992, the weather was Pakistan’s accomplice. Having been skittled for just 74 by England, the heavens opened with their opponents 24-1 in the chase. Pakistan avoided defeat and picked up a point that would prove crucial in their progression to the semi-finals.
In 2022, they were aided by Netherlands producing an upset in the Super 12 finale. South Africa needed a win over the lowest-ranked side left in the competition to guarantee a spot in the last four – but did what South Africa do at World Cups and found a way to lose.
“I was in the gym watching every ball,” Pakistan’s leg-spinning all-rounder Shadab Khan told Sky Sports Cricket’s Nasser Hussain.
“Then when we went to the ground, when Netherlands were taking wickets, it felt like we were taking wickets. The prayers worked and then we said, ‘this is our time’.”
South Africa’s loss meant the winners of Pakistan vs Bangladesh later in the day would take the final semi-final place – and it was Pakistan who prevailed with a five-wicket win at Adelaide Oval. The new ‘cornered tigers’ really had boxed themselves out of a corner.
That aforementioned last-ball defeat to Zimbabwe in Perth came just days after a last-ball loss to arch-rivals India at the MCG.
Their performances were not dreadful – they had India all-but beat until a Virat Kohli masterclass and an error-strewn final over from left-arm spinner Mohammad Nawaz and they appeared on course to chase 131 against Zimbabwe after reaching 88-3 – but the closing stages let them down.
Just short of a complete performance and just short of victory. What Pakistan games are never short of, however, is drama and intrigue. They are a mercurial team and a hell of a watchable one.
“Welcome to Pakistan cricket,” is how Shadab described it to team mentor Matthew Hayden during the Bangladesh match. “Welcome aboard the Pakistan rollercoaster: don’t try to understand it, just enjoy it,” was a headline on an ESPNcricinfo piece that followed..
There were even times during their four-matching winning run to reach the final where things were far from routine.
Pakistan were 43-4 against South Africa before rallying to post 185-9 thanks to half-centuries from Shadab and Iftikhar Ahmed.
They made relatively slow progress in the run chase against Bangladesh and against New Zealand in the semi-finals, an ultimately successful pursuit of 153 would have been made much more difficult if Babar had not been dropped first ball by Black Caps wicketkeeper Devon Conway.
Babar punished Conway’s butterfingers with his first fifty of the tournament, having endured a dreadful Super 12 phase with four single-digit dismissals, a top-score of 25 and an average of 7.80.
The similarities are there [with 1992]. We will try to win the trophy as it is an honour for me to lead this team, especially in this big ground.
Now, he will be hoping to follow in Imran’s footsteps by starring in and winning a World Cup final at the MCG, with Imran hitting 72 and taking the match-clinching wicket against England in 1992.
Imran has played a part in this current World Cup journey for Pakistan.
Perhaps Babar and his players have had a ‘do it for Imran’ mentality after their former skipper and the country’s former prime minister was shot earlier this month. Shadab says they were “definitely motivated” by Imran’s tweet ahead of the semi-final which read, ‘all we expect from you is to fight till the last ball’.
Pakistan have shown real fight in this World Cup, they have had to, and now the T20 trophy is in their sights.
They are just one win away from making up for the defeat to India at the MCG three weeks ago – and from replicating the win over England at the MCG 30 years ago. Then it really will be 1992 all over again.
Watch England vs Pakistan in the T20 World Cup final live on Sky Sports Cricket on Sunday. Build-up gets under way at 7am ahead of an 8am start at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.