Pakistan: Unpredictable and dangerous

Pakistan has a splendid combination of trusted and ambitious players. There is experience and there is the resolve of the youth that makes it an exciting team.

Skipper Sarfraz Ahmed brings calmness to a Pakistan camp that relies on impulsive stroke-makers to show the way.   -  Reuters

Forever a team in transition and forever a team embroiled in controversy, Pakistan is easily the most unpredictable team in the Champions Trophy. It can finish at the bottom and it can wear the crown. All depends on how the players approach the tournament — seeking individual glory or putting a collective act and stun the cricket world.

ICC Champions Trophy schedule

The recent Test triumph in the West Indies should galvanise the team into a fighting unit. The loss of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan, two of the finest batsmen to have emerged from the sub-continent, to retirement, will hurt Pakistan in its Champions Trophy campaign, but one can expect the team to surprise the opponents with its resilience and resolve.

The team will be also without the services of Umar Akmal, who failed a fitness test. “He has failed two fitness tests during the ongoing camp in England ahead of Champions Trophy,” PCB chairman Shaharyar Khan revealed to a website. “So since we have a policy to not carry unfit players, it has been decided to call him back and send a replacement.”

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National chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq, not the swiftest players on the field during his heyday, insisted on players maintaining fitness. “We had a set a fitness standard, which isn’t really a tough one to start with, but he still didn’t meet the average level. So, whoever the player is, whatever his performance is like, we could not select him. Akmal being dropped is a reprimand and it’s a major blow for any player. He is a good player, we needed him, but we had to take a decision,” he said.

Even at the cost of missing a player like Akmal, it is this new emphasis on fitness that presents Pakistan as the team to respect in this tournament. This is one title that has eluded Pakistan and it has the potential to travel the distance as it seeks redemption in 50-over cricket. There is a splendid combination of trusted and ambitious players. There is experience and there is the resolve of the youth that makes Pakistan an exciting team.

It will face a huge challenge in its opening match against India and former fast bowler Azhar Mahmood aptly summed up the clash. “These matches are a great opportunity for players to shine and become heroes whether they are a veteran or a newcomer. I remember my debut against India and I thought this is the time for me to perform and I thought that if I can perform in this game, then I can become a hero. There is never a dull moment in these matches wherever the match is played and whoever holds their nerve and whoever can take the pressure will come out as the winner,” Azhar was quoted by a Pakistan website.

At the helm of the team is Sarfraz Ahmed. The 30-year-old has an experience of 70 matches, with an ability to inspire the middle-order. He brings calmness to a camp that relies on impulsive stroke-makers to show the way. Opener Ahmed Shehzad and top-order bat Babar Azam are rated high for their brilliant range of shots and the temperament to play the pivotal roles in the batting line-up.

In Shoaib Malik the team has a vastly experienced all-rounder, who keeps his best for the big moments. With Mohammad Hafeez, he brings solidity to the batting line-up and Pakistan would depend on these stalwarts in times of crisis. Malik has played 247 matches for Pakistan and Hafeez 185 and their ability to contribute in all departments of the game will be a comforting factor for skipper Sarfraz.

Azhar Mahmood, who is the bowling coach of the team, has spoken highly of medium-pacer Hasan Ali. “I like this guy’s attitude. He wants to play, he wants to learn, he wants to do well and he wants to perform well for the team and for himself. He has the perfect attitude and exactly the attitude you want from your players. When I first saw him bowling in the first edition of the Pakistan Super League, he reminded me so much of myself when I came into international cricket,” Mahmood said.

Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz bring quality to the Pakistan new-ball attack. Riaz’s speed and Amir’s guile make them a potent force. Leg-spinners Shadab Khan and Azhar Ali, left-arm spinner Imad Wasim, who can contribute with the bat too, and left-arm fast Junaid Khan add to the talent pool of the team. Uncapped all-rounder Fahim Ashraf is said to be the next big thing in Pakistan cricket along with the gifted left-hand batsman Fakhar Zaman, who has played three T20s matches.

Given its potential and the unpredictable nature, Pakistan has the capacity to make it a memorable outing at the Champions Trophy.

The squad

Sarfraz Ahmed (captain), Azhar Ali, Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Hafeez, Babar Azam, Shoaib Malik, Haris Sohail, Fakhar Zaman, Imad Wasim, Hasan Ali, Fahim Ashraf, Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Amir, Junaid Khan and Shadab Khan.

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