Another ICC event around the corner, another Pakistan team going into it with an abysmal record. And the latest? They have been beaten by Afghanistan on Friday in their warm-up game. Interestingly, Pakistan have won only two of the seven series they have played since their extraordinary 2017 Champions Trophy win. The first of these was against a dismal Sri Lankan side and the second was against Zimbabwe. Three of the series defeats have been whitewashes. And yet, such is their record of turning things around in major tournaments that they are being talked of as favourites to reach the semi-finals behind India, England and Australia. Also Read - World Test Championship is Like a ICC World Cup For me: Ishant Sharma
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Ability or talent are not the areas where Pakistan are lacking. They have in their squad batsmen and bowlers who can single-handedly win games on their day. Babar Azam scored a century and three half centuries in their series against England and scored 112 in the warm-up match against Afghanistan on Friday. Apart from him, Imam-ul-Haq, Fakhar Zaman and veteran Shoaib Malik add firepower to the batting lineup. With the conditions expected to be better suited for the batsmen, Pakistan will be banking on them to lead the charge.
The selectors decided to give Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz a look in, despite the pair’s dismal recent form. Mohammad Hasnain has been turning heads with his raw pace while Shaheen Afridi and Hasan Ali are both capable exponents. The bowling department also includes Imad Wasim and all-rounder Mohammad Hafeez.
Pakistan’s problems starts with the selection itself. That Wahab Riaz has done precious little since bowling a fiery spell against Shane Watson at the 2015 World Cup should leave fans scratching their heads as to how he made the squad. But again, he showed a different side to himself on Friday in the warm-up game. 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. 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.
Despite all their failings, it is undeniable that Pakistan have a 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 Champions Trophy. Former captain Waqar Younis had used the word ‘Tamasha’ while describing the team’s tendency to spring unlikely fightbacks from hopeless situations. The batsmen may be inconsistent and the bowlers may be out of form, but that is not fodder to rule out the chances of a ‘tamasha’ happening again.
In the past two years, Pakistan have faced five of the nine other teams playing in this World Cup in bilateral series and lost to four of them. Apart from the conditions, the other challenge that they will have to overcome is putting those results behind and going for the jugular. Their first match is against a rejuvenated West Indies unit on May 31 and the big game against India is on June 16. Wins in these two matches will go a long way in helping them overcome mental barriers.