Wasim Akram's extraordinary team, which includes perhaps the fastest bowler (Shoaib Akhtar) and the slowest runner between the wickets (Inzamam- ul-Haq) in cricket history, went down in flames on Sunday when Australia bowled them out for 132. Australia then cruised to the easiest of eight-wicket victoriess.
No nation would be happy with such an outcome. But in a country such as Pakistan, rich chiefly in troubles, cricketing success is the great national consolation. Failure, on the other hand, is the stuff of mass despair. And Pakistan's defeats are always made worse by the suspicion that they are rigged.
A long-running inquiry in Pakistan into match-fixing published an interim report last September in which Wasim, and his team-mates Ijaz Ahmed and Salim Malik, were accused of taking money to play poorly. Salim, whose oddly diffident performances had drawn suspicion before, was dropped from the team for a second time. Wasim somehow brazened it out.
But suspicion again descended during the World Cup when on 31 May Pakistan were trounced by Bangladesh, the tournament's tiddlers. During the game, Wasim seemed to be enjoying the humiliation.
Afterwards he said: "I am glad that we have lost to our brothers. The better team on the day won the match." One Indian newspaper put it: "Wasim Akram hands it on a platter to `our brothers'." Newspaper reports that thousands of Pakistanis smashed their televisions in fury were much exaggerated. But every tea-shop with a television resounded with bitter curses.
On Tuesday, donkeys were paraded through Lahore carrying effigies of Wasim and his vice-captain, Moin Khan. Yesterday a rumour swept the country that a team of top intelligence officials had been assigned to investigate the team's performance.
"They are as shrewd in making money as in playing," one fan said yesterday. "But this time they have gone too far."