Pakistan Against the Odds

Pakistan Against the Odds

15 to 1. Those are the odds that bookmakers have allotted to Pakistan’s chances of winning the T20 World Cup in June, in the direct aftermath of England’s 7-wicket hammering of Babar Azam’s troops at the Oval, which was the final game for either side before the big dance in the USA and Caribbean.

If mathematics is not your strong suit, what this means is that betting markets believe that if this exact tournament was held 16 times as of today, Pakistan would win it just once. In terms of a concrete win percentage, it comes out to 6.25%, which is basically the decimal equivalent of the amount of faith odds-makers have in the 2009 World T20 champions, to lift the trophy for a second time in 2024. 

Why write about this, you ask? Well, let’s just say it has gotten extremely exhausting to hear every other cricket expert/journalist in Pakistan make the ‘supposedly bold’ claim that the Men in Green will be unable to repeat the triumph of 2009 in 2024 and that supporters can bet their bottom dollar on them being proven correct.

If the odds are anything to go by, that is as safe a prediction as one could possibly make. It has a success rate of 93.75%, after all. You are looking at 7 cents on that dollar, which makes you wonder what the ruckus is all about, and why this narrative is being sold as some sort of divine intervention that anyone with a basic level of education can not decipher on their own. 

A fair few sensationalism-ridden cricket analysts in Pakistan have rationalized this statement with their lack of trust in the captain of the men’s national team, Babar Azam. In essence, what they mean to say is that with Babar at the helm, they can guarantee Pakistan’s failure in the most coveted 20-over competition in cricket, which is set to kick off on the 1st of June, 2024.

Granted that the premier all-format batter has erred on a host of occasions when it comes to tactical decision-making as captain, his leadership is not a factor that bookmakers consider when they settle on a number, whilst establishing the odds.

So what parameters do they consider, exactly? Form, resources, opponents, playing conditions, how a team stacks up against the best in the business, and most importantly, trends in data, to name a few. 

How quickly do Pakistan’s batters score in comparison to other teams, across phases? How often do they strike with the ball? In what phases do they strike with the ball most frequently? What economy rates are they conceding their runs at, in recent times? What is the probability of Pakistan’s T20 squad performing in the expected playing conditions across all the various venues which are set to host their World Cup games?

We are living in the age of information, where data is money, and algorithms dictate commerce. Complex mathematical equations drawn up on a computer are set in place, which chug out intricately calculated percentages when specific variables are plugged in. This is not witchcraft, it is merely science, and with Artificial Intelligence currently in its infancy, what the future holds with respect to this field is perhaps beyond comprehension. 

Let’s look at Pakistan’s squad qualitatively for a bit, as opposed to all the aforementioned quantitative viewpoints. Does Pakistan have a stable top order, let alone batting lineup? If the surfaces in the Caribbean are expected to be slow and low, with turn on offer for the tweakers, does Pakistan have an optimal set of batters which can take down spin? Alternatively, are Pakistan’s spinners good enough to make full use of conditions where the ball is expected to take some grip? 

If we judge Pakistan as a T20 outfit in comparison to other top cricketing nations in the format, the outcome is not particularly flattering. Their batting resources do not stack up to leading sides like England, Australia, India, or even South Africa, and their bowling stocks, which have historically been sky-high, are experiencing an uncharacteristic decline. Nothing needs to be said of Pakistan’s spin bowling prowess, which has been down in the dumps for a hot minute.

Again, you are not required to be a data scientist to come to these rather obvious conclusions, assuming you have been following Pakistan cricket in the shortest format, since at least the end of the 2022 edition of the T20 World Cup. Rest assured, however, people in charge of setting the odds have quantified this entire qualitative analysis into automated mathematical formulae, and the output has resulted in that underwhelming 15 to 1 figure. 

Pakistan is by no means a top 4 team, and any individual who labels them as odds-on favourites to win the T20 World Cup is consuming some sort of medication that shouldn’t be approved by the FDA. 

That said, prior to the 2015-16 season in the English Premier League, recently promoted football club Leicester City had been assigned odds of 500 to 1, to win the 38 game-per-side competition. An estimated 0.20% chance of victory. 

The Foxes, as they are known, lifted the Premier League trophy in May 2016, beating those almost indomitable odds, and making a few loyal supporters outrageously rich. 

If you are not acquainted with English league football, look no further than Pakistan’s cricket team itself. Back in 2017, the men’s team was at risk of failing to qualify for the Champions Trophy, an ODI tournament where the top 8 teams in the format compete against each other for the (somewhat) ultimate prize. Such was the desperation to participate in this tournament, that the PCB cancelled an ODI series with the West Indies, scheduling one with Zimbabwe instead, to deny the men in maroon an opportunity to replace Pakistan as the eighth-ranked team in the Champions Trophy.

After losing their tournament opener vs arch-rivals India, Sarfaraz’s unit went on an unbeaten four-game streak, which culminated in a white jacket-laden podium celebration. That team outclassed none other than India in the mother of all finals, having overcome hosts England, Sri Lanka and South Africa along the way. Each one of those sides was ranked higher than the eventual champions.

As things stand, India, Australia, England, South Africa, West Indies and New Zealand have better odds of winning the 2024 T20 World Cup than Pakistan, in descending order. Sport doesn’t work as per the algorithm though. Sport is magic. Real-time drama. Anything can happen on any given day, and every now and then the stars align to deliver something special, giving spectators an arc to remember, and gamblers a massive payday, if their foresight or fortune was up to the task. 

A 6.25% chance of lifting the title is a number greater than zero, and odds in the betting market are not the gospel truth; subject to change after every single new outcome. They are nothing but meticulously calculated real-time predictions, by design. And of course, the betting market too has its limitations, especially when it comes to a sport which is extremely conditions-based. Arguably more than any other sport, globally.

So then, can Pakistan surprise us at the T20 World Cup? While that notion can be considered highly unlikely, you can never say never with absolute certainty, in stark contrast to what an awful lot of cricket media personnel in Pakistan are actively uttering. 

The next time some so-called expert tells you that they can guarantee Pakistan’s elimination from the 2024 T20 World Cup, respond by saying that you think it’s likely for it to rain in England in the month of May, but that is not to say the sun has no chance of shining.

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