Pakistan. Always enigmatic; at times incredible and at times frustrating.
You never really know which Pakistan will turn up on the field on any given day. There is the one that, against all odds, won the ICC Champions Trophy in England last year showing indomitable spirit. Then there is a Pakistan which crumbled in a whimper and went on to suffer an ignominious 5-0 ODI washout in New Zealand earlier this year.
They have the talent – raw and unbridled.
They have the fire too which at times can be too difficult to restrain.
But can they control that talent and fire and finally become that wholesome unit that can perform consistently?
They must, really. If they want to prove to the world, and themselves, that the Champions Trophy victory wasn’t a flash in the pan. It is this lack of consistency which their fans desperately yearn for them and it is the very thing that halts them from being the best out there.
Meanwhile, as the World Cup 2019 approaches, all teams are in full gear, chalking out strategies and getting their combinations right.
Experts have already picked their favourites and the home team along with India look set to be the top contenders.
So where does Pakistan stand? And why aren’t more people talking about them?
Ignorance is a great folly of man and he’s got none to blame. Pakistan are out to prove exactly that about their critics.
After that humiliating 5-0 defeat in New Zealand, the men in green have had a terrific white-ball year since. They beat the Black Caps in the T20I series that followed, brushed apart West Indies at home convincingly while also sealing a comfortable 2-0 win over Scotland. Then earlier this month, Pakistan went on to beat Australia to win the T20I tri-series in Zimbabwe and followed it with a 5-0 thumping of Zimbabwe in the ODI series right after that.
While the bigger, more fancied teams are hogging the limelight Pakistan is quietly making their case for the World Cup next year. And though one might say that their recent triumphs have come against underperforming teams, you cannot ignore the sheer confidence and authority they have exuded in limited overs cricket recently.
Under Sarfraz Ahmed, the team is shaping up well and has all the tools to do well in England next year just like they did in the Champions Trophy in 2017. Pakistan’s bane has always been their brittle batting. Mediocre batting performances over the past decade have landed Pakistan in a mess more than once. But with Babar Azam, Pakistan’s current batting superstar, and Fakhar Zaman, the newest member of the ODI double hundred club, showing tremendous form at the top, the team’s batting suddenly looks very stable. Imam-ul-Haq’s emergence bolsters their batting at the top further – the 22-year-old left-hander might not be graceful like Saeed Anwar but has shown class and grit to collect nearly 400 runs in just 6 ODIs this year. The ever composed Sarfraz Ahmed along with the hard-hitting Asif Ali gives their lower middle-order the edge it badly needs.
Add the experience and form of Shoaib Malik to the mix and you have some batting order.
What really gives Pakistan the edge, like always, is their bowling which has a lot of teeth. Mohammad Amir, Hasan Ali, and Faheem Ashraf are likely to be the chief men leading Pakistan’s pace unit in the months leading up to the World Cup next year. And all of them together would be quite a handful on any surface and against any opposition.
Yes, Aamir hasn’t been having the greatest of years in ODIs – only 3 wickets in 7 games. But he found great form in T20Is – 14 wickets in 9 matches – and Tests – 12 wickets in just 3 games – in 2018. The maverick pacer is well and truly Pakistan’s ace in the pack.
The other two fast bowlers have been having a brilliant year across formats. Hasan Ali has been hitting the right lengths and zipping the ball around. Though he doesn’t have express pace, Hasan has shown tremendous skills with his great blend of variations and is quite clearly Pakistan’s bowling star of the future. 24-year-old Faheem Ashraf has been a surprise package and has been Pakistan’s leading wicket-taker this year in ODIs. A hard-hitting batsman and a valuable wicket-taking seam bowler who can move the ball around, if Faheem can maintain his form he can be the X-Factor for Pakistan leading to the World Cup.
Lest one forget, leg-spinner Shadab Khan, with 37 wickets, has been Pakistan’s leading wicket-taker in 2018 from all formats. At just 19 years of age, the tall leg-break bowler has become a sensation in Pakistan with his ability to extract prodigious turn on any surface and regularly break partnerships. He is miserly and astute and adds a great dimension to Pakistan’s dynamic bowling attack.
So it is apparent that Pakistan has in-form and talented players at the present moment. But will they be able to sustain their momentum? Can Sarfaraz mould his talented players and keep them focused enough to be consistent?
We shall get a good look at Pakistan’s form and preparation in the Asia Cup in September this year. If Sarfraz and his men can put up a good show there as well then people would be forced to take notice of this bunch. This team isn’t brimming with larger than life superstars. But certainly, have the right concoction to steadily make their mark.
So whether one takes this Pakistan team seriously or not, there is no denying that on current form they are developing into a serious threat in limited overs cricket. Now the only question is which Pakistan will turn up on the field at the World Cup next summer?