Come the ICC tournaments and Pakistan enter them with a string of poor performances haunting them down. With the ICC World Cup 2019 also, the team is going into it with an abysmal record. They have been beaten by Afghanistan on Friday in their warm-up game. Leading up to the mega event, they have won only two of their last seven ODI series since their prodigious act of lifting the 2017 Champions Trophy. The two series, however came against the dismal sides of Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe and of the four series defeats, three have been whitewashes, including their last series before the World Cup against Australia. Yet, such has been their fate and the habit of producing unprecedented shows in major tournaments that they are being talked of as favourites to reach the semi-finals behind India, England and Australia. They are set to start their campaign against a rejuvenated West Indian unit on May 31.
Ability or talent have never been the areas of concern for Pakistan. This time too, they possess in their squad batsmen and bowlers who can single-handedly take away the games from opponents. Babar Azam, who would be their leading batsman in the tournament, scored a century and three half centuries in their series against England and notched up 112 in the warm-up game against Afghanistan on Friday. Having gained enough experience of playing in England and scoring most of his away runs there, he will hold the key to Pakistan’s success. He has scored 437 runs in 11 ODIs on the English soil. With the conditions likely to be batting friendly, Imam-ul-Haq, Fakhar Zaman and veteran Shoaib Malik will add firepower to the batting lineup. Along with Azam, the Sarfaraz Khan-led side will be banking heavily on them to lead the charge.
The bowling department also look relatively strong which include the likes Imad Wasim, Hasan Ali, Shadab Khan, Shaheen Afiridi, Mohammad Hasnain, among others. One of the most talked about young prospect of International cricket right now, Mohammad Hansnain could be Pakistan’s dark horse in this tournament while Shaheen Afridi and Hasan Ali are both capable exponents, on their days.
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The decision of the selectors to give Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz a look in, despite the pair’s dismal recent form, could create a mayhem for them if the duo don’t perform according to the selector’s expectations. Wahab Riaz has not produced any substantial act, since bowling a fiery spell against Shane Watson at the 2015 World, to get a World Cup berth ahead of Junaid Khan. The same goes for Mohammad Amir, who has picked 8 wickets in 16 matches since the 2017 Champions Trophy at an average of 59.87.
However, both the bowlers did show signs of improvement in the warm-up game against Afghanistan where Amir bowled an economical and Wahab clinched three wickets to emerge as his side’s leading wicket taker of the match. Shaheen Afridi went for over 80 runs in all matches that he played in the recent series against England while Mohammad Hasnain remains a relatively unknown quantity. Such uncharacteristic vulnerability within the pace battery means that the onus will be on the batsmen to provide the goods but inconsistency is rife in that department too.
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Despite all the recent failures, it is being expected that Pakistan will proliferate their tendency to pull off the most astonishing wins at times when they look the least probable. Examples of these would be Imran Khan’s “Cornered Tigers” that went on to win the World Cup in 1992 or the red hot run in 2017 that helped them trounce outright favourites India in the final by 180 runs to lift the ICC Champions Trophy 2017. Former captain Waqar Younis termed this knack of his nation to spring unlikely fightbacks from hopeless situations as “Tamasha”. However, having lost the bilateral series against four of the nine opponent teams of the World Cup and their sustained run of poor performance, replicating the “Tamasha” is going to be harder than ever before.
(With inputs from IANS)