Pakistan ruined New Zealand’s perfect record with a six-wicket victory in Birmingham that kept their Cricket World Cup semifinal hopes alive.
With a series of ODI matches in English conditions under the belt, Pakistan will come into the 2019 Cricket World Cup ready to rumble, but their recent results suggest it could be a long six weeks for Sarfraz Ahmed’s side.
Sarfraz Ahmed (c), Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Babar Azam, Shoaib Malik, Mohammad Hafeez, Asif Ali, Shadab Khan, Imad Wasim, Haris Sohail, Hasan Ali, Shaheen Afridi, Mohammad Amir, Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Hasnain
The Pakistan squad was picked before the tour of England. There was one startling omission, with big-name quick Mohammad Amir left out. But, despite his performances – or lack thereof – against England, he’s made a late return.
The squad will be led by the uncompromising Sarfraz Ahmed, who will also don the gloves, but when it comes to the batting, it’s Imam-ul-Haq and Fakhar Zaman who must lead the way at the top of the order.
While bowling has been almost a moot point in English conditions with massive run-fests in their ODI series, left arm spinning all rounder Imad Wasim has been in good touch, but the loss of opening bowler Usman Khan Shinwari will hurt, although Pakistan will attempt to counter that with the inclusions of Amir and Wahab Riaz.
The top order is without a doubt their biggest strength. At the time of writing, Pakistan had passed 300 in each of their last four completed ODI matches, and it’s not a surprise that those scores come off the back of big scores.
Since June last year, their first-choice top three – Fakhar Zaman, Babar Azam and Imam-ul-Haq – are their leading three run-scorers, and have all put up big totals, winning games for Pakistan at various points.
Imam, in particular, has just been outstanding, scoring 1238 runs at 61 in his last 24 ODI knocks, while Zaman has also cleared into four figures.
Pakistan relies heavily on having a strong platform built for their middle and lower order, which possesses names like Sarfraz Ahmed and Mohammed Hafeez, both of whom can tee off at a moments notice in the critical late stages of an ODI.
However, a team needs to come in with more than just the top order as a strength, and with their pace attack missing Amir and Shinwari, it’s hard to find one at the moment.
Their spinners have had a good last 12 months, with Shadab Khan having 23 wickets and Shaheen Shah Afridi 22, but they will be less impactful on English grounds.
There are plenty of them for the Pakistan side, but first things first – they have to get their fielding sorted if they hope to go anywhere in England.
In what are likely high-scoring games, they need to find a way to prevent the runs, and cutting off sharp singles, holding onto catches and putting the batsmen on the back foot when trying to pick up quick runs are all important.
Unfortunately, Pakistan’s fielding has always lacked, and that isn’t helped by Sarfraz as skipper, who can just never seem to settle on an individual plan for any one bowler to a batsman. Get that fixed, or not only will it be mammoth totals, but over rate fines for Sarfraz.
It’s hard not to call the pace bowling attack a weakness as well, especially considering the fact they have conceded scores of 373, 359 and 341 in their last three ODIs at the time of writing.
Amir has been picked despite being left out of Pakistan’s last couple of encounters, and the other names won’t inspire great confidence.
This is a tough one, because Hafeez hasn’t been in great form in English conditions in the lead-up to cricket’s showpiece.
However, he a vital cog in the Pakistani machine, batting at number four and bowling plenty of overs.
His career averages of over 6000 runs at 33 and 137 wickets at 37 with an economy of just over four runs per over show you how valuable he is to the Pakistan side, but it’s become more apparent during this English series that Pakistan need him in some sort of form if they are going to go anywhere.
What is probably more impressive for the 38-year-old veteran, who is surely in his final major tournament for Pakistan, is that he has the ability to pull off a big performance when Pakistan need it most, and has a track record of doing so.
If he can bring some consistency, mixed with the big-game ability during the World Cup, then it changes the outlook of the Cup vastly.
This Pakistan squad has some weapons around it, but there is going to be a real struggle for the outfit to get to the top of the charts throughout this tournament. They will beat some of the other sub-continental teams around them, but it’s hard to see Sarfraz Ahmed’s side challenging for the top four.