Team Pakistan preview: Ignore at your own peril

The core of Pakistan’s squad is made up of some powerful young players. They have the energy and the urge to prove a point.

Pakistan’s captain Sarfaraz Ahmed (left) and coach Mickey Arthur address a news conference in Lahore. “We are a good team and have prepared in the best possible manner,” says Arthur.   -  AP

“Pakistan cricket at its best  —  one minute down, next minute up!”

That line from former England captain turned commentator Naseer Hussain during the Champions Trophy 2017 final when Mohammad Amir dismissed Virat Kohli, quite literally, sums up Pakistan cricket. The moment came just a ball after the Indian captain was dropped in the slips.

Forever known as mercurial and unpredictable, the Pakistan cricket team has had fluctuating fortunes, but in its case it has been sort of permanent.

Pakistan is always associated with lines like: “Discount Pakistan at your peril," and “Wonder which Pakistan team will turn up on the day.” This is because Pakistan has the ability to beat any team in the world, but can also be counted to produce the worst performance on the field.

Take the Champions Trophy 2017 for example. Pakistan was soundly thrashed by India by 124 runs in the opening match. But then in the final against the same opponent, it turned the tables with an emphatic 180-run win. That triumph ranks alongside Pakistan’s 1992 World Cup triumph and the podium finish at the 2009 World Twenty20.

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Two years on, the memories of that Champions Trophy triumph at the Oval in London is keeping Pakistan skipper Sarfaraz Ahmed hopeful of an encore. But since the triumph, Pakistan’s ODI fortunes have plummeted. The team was blanked 0-5 in New Zealand, lost twice to India tamely and then went down to Bangladesh in the Asia Cup. Recently it was whitewashed 0-5 at ‘home’ in the UAE by Australia.

Bilateral form may not count when it comes to the World Cup, because Pakistan can turn the tables on any team on its day. The format — all teams playing each other like in 1992 — suits Pakistan as it allows a good and a bad day!

Promising youngsters

The core of Pakistan’s squad is made up of some powerful young players. They have the energy and the urge to prove a point.

Explosive Fakhar Zaman, 29, teams up with a confident 23-year-old Imam-ul-Haq to give express starts, though it must be said that Pakistan’s weaker link is its batting.

"Our team has 100 percent skills to do well in the World Cup. They are struggling, [but] so are other teams in many ways. They are playing good cricket overall," says Shadab Khan.   -  AP

In recent times, whenever Zaman and Imam have collaborated well, Pakistan’s strong bowling had totals in the range of 280 or above to defend.

Then comes Babar Azam, 24, who, in the last couple of years, has been a leading batsman in the limited-over formats. Azam’s form will be crucial for Pakistan’s fortunes as will be the efforts of another left-hander, Haris Sohail. Together, the quartet of Zaman, Imam, Azam and Sohail give Pakistan a strong top order.

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But the most noticeable youthful exuberance is seen in Pakistan’s bowling. Shaheen Shah Afridi has made a name at just 19.

Tall and athletic, Shaheen is the new Afridi and is a wicket-taking option. The other teenage star to look out for is the 19-year-old Mohammad Hasnain. It has been an unexpected climb up the ladder for Hasnain who stunned batsmen during this year’s Pakistan Super League by clocking speeds upwards of 150km per hour and one can expect him to rattle a few line-ups.

Biggest asset

The biggest asset of the attack is the 24-year-old Hasan Ali who is a genuine wicket-taker. Hasan was the stand out bowler in Pakistan’s Champions Trophy campaign with 13 wickets and is primed to pick wickets in the middle overs.

Pakistan’s specialist spinner is leg-spinner Shadab Khan. The wrist spinner is currently battling the hepatitis virus. His fitness will be key to Pakistan as he is expected to take advantage of the dry English conditions. All-rounder Imad Wasim will not only complement Shadab with his fastish left-arm deliveries, but can also solve some of Pakistan’s problems in power hitting.

Pakistan has the option of employing a powerful striker in Asif Ali. Despite not being very successful in ODIs, Asif has the ability to clear the boundary once he gets going.

Experience aplenty

Pakistan also has the experienced trio of Shoaib Malik (282 ODIs), captain Sarfaraz Ahmed (101 games) and Mohammad Hafeez (208 matches).

Sarfaraz will bat at No. 5 to make good use of his excellent record in England, while Malik and Hafeez will vie for a place in the XI at No. 6.

No wonder considering all the options at hand, head coach Mickey Arthur remains excited over his team’s prospects. “We are a good team and have prepared in the best possible manner. This World Cup is very open with six-seven teams in with a chance to win. You cannot discount us,” sums up Arthur.

Well that is the word on the street, ignore Pakistan cricket team at an ICC event at your own peril!