Its professionalism hasn’t allowed this Pakistan team, brimming with confidence, to lose the common touch.
The on-field pace and swing marauders Shaheen Shah Afridi and Haris Rauf, along with bowling coach Morne Morkel, are busy splashing water on each other even as the fidgety Mohammad Rizwan is finetuning the sweep and reverse-sweep against a throwdown specialist in the nets.
Moments ago, captain Babar Azam had expressed the pride he felt in having the pace unit he has been blessed with during a press conference on the eve of the Super Four Asia Cup match against India.
“It is a matter of pride to have such a fast-bowling unit. Tournaments and matches are won by fast bowlers. The key to their success is belief. The way they bowl in partnerships and stay united. If someone has an off day, there’s always someone else who makes up for him,” he said.
The off-field camaraderie was on display after Rauf routed Bangladesh with a four-wicket haul to become the fourth fastest Pakistani to 50 ODI wickets. Afridi, 23, presented a 29-year-old Rauf with a souvenir and delivered a speech, referring to his Lahore Qalandars teammate as ‘ladka’ while placing an elder-brotherly hand on his shoulder before the two shared a hug. There was no crease of subordination on Rauf’s brow.
This is a team secure in its craft and each other’s success. The internal feuds that have plagued Pakistan cricket, amongst batters and pacers alike, and fettered its ascent, are a thing of the past. Perched on top of the ODI rankings ahead of a World Cup in India, this is a good starting point.
Rauf, the oldest among the trio of Afridi and Naseem Shah, is the leading wicket-taker in the tournament, with nine scalps in three games. However, called upon more often in the middle and death overs, Rauf sometimes cedes the limelight to new-ball operators Afridi and Naseem. And yet, there is no sense of unhealthy competition. That is a sentiment that seems to permeate the team environment.
Pakistan may not have announced its squad for the quadrennial showpiece, but Azam’s words indicate this is a conscious decision rather than one marred by indecision.
“We are closing in on the squad for the World Cup, but we are just waiting a little bit to see where we can improve. Selection is not only in my hands, but also about destiny. All the players know that selection will be based on what is best for the team. Players in this team are not worried about heartbreak if they are not selected,” he said.
Though the team appears well-rounded, the team management is looking for options to increase its effectiveness with the ball in the middle-overs. Pakistan’s spinners lack the cutting edge, and fast-bowling all-rounder Faheem Ashraf is being looked at as a remedy in place of Mohammad Nawaz, with leg-spinner Usama Mir also in the mix.
The three are likely to play musical chairs for a spot until a solution is arrived at, and Azam says Pakistan has come ‘a long way’ from a situation where players would worry about getting to play or not.
“All we are thinking about is how to win matches and tournaments,” he said.
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