Pakistan's Babar Azam
Pakistan's Babar Azam (L) celebrates with teammate Haris Sohail after scoring a century (100 runs) during the match against New Zealand at Edgbaston in Birmingham. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: It’s the almost spooky similarity between Pakistan’s World Cup winning campaign in 1992 and the current one which has gripped the imagination of the cricket fans this week. As things stand now, we don’t even know if the green shirts will eventually make the semi-finals, but their turnaround has to be the most engaging story of Week 4 for the World Cup.

Just ponder the situation of a week ago. There won’t be very many captains in world cricket who would have liked to be in the shoes of Sarfaraz Ahmad, who had to bear with a huge backlash after their 89-run defeat to India — be it the choicest expletives from former cricketers to even merciless body shaming by the fans. To cap it all, there was even talk of dissension in the camp — which had been so often the bane of the country’s cricketing fortunes in the past.

It all seems a distant past after two compact performances against South Africa and the consistent Kiwis brought them back with a realistic chance of crawling into the last four from here. While the cricketing world will be gloating about Babar Azam’s classy century under extremely challenging conditions at Edgbaston, the man who has lent the much-needed depth to their middle order was Haris Sohail.

A look at Sohail’s career figures, who made his international debut in 2013, will show a mere nine Tests and 37 ODIs against his name — but people in the know vouch for his willpower to be still playing international cricket after a debilitating knee injury. Shunted out of the game for two years, the 30-year-old staged a comeback in Tests last year and his back-to-back half-centuries in England against quality attacks will ease Mickey Arthur’s worries for the crucial fifth spot.

If Pakistan’s resurgence was one of the heartening features, it’s England’s meltdown in the last two games that would pose serious concern for the hosts. From a team, which looked to have all bases covered until the other day — the loss against Pakistan being an early blip — their top order looked vulnerable in front of Lasith Malinga’s guile and then the Australian pace battery’s relentless aggression.

A peek at history tells us that it’s the great expectations of its people, along with a harsh media, which has choked England’s football and cricket teams at the threshold of glory. The context is again eerily familiar as Eoin Morgan’s team, who boast substantial depth and variety, had again created hope with the kind of consistency and fearless cricket they played since the 2015 World Cup.

Any cricket aficionado — irrespective of the flag colours — will agree that the likes of Roy, Bairstow, Root, Stokes and Buttler qualify the benchmark of a ‘golden generation.’ It’s now in their hands to redeem themselves or sink in the depths of despair once again.

Post Script: A big round of applause for the spirited Afghanistan team for the way they almost pulled the rug from below the feet of Virat Kohli & Co. One only hopes they can master the art of finishing a few matches too!