Pakistan is a team that is unpredictable just like the English weather. Someday they get defeated by Zimbabwe and then go on to play the final of the same event (T20 World Cup 2022)
The Pakistani cricket team has the ability to be in the top 3 teams of world cricket regularly but the factor that is stopping them from being the top team is their inconsistency in performance. This World Cup will be career-defining for a lot of their players especially Babar Azam as they have already lost 2 T20 World Cups and 2 Asia Cups under his leadership and we already know how dramatically things change in the Pakistan Cricket Team.
Starting as one of the favourites in the Asia Cup this year, Pakistan failed to even qualify for the finals as they got a campaign derailing 228 runs defeat from India in their 2nd encounter with them in the Super 4. Babar Azam the captain had a middling tournament as he failed in all 3 Super 4 games and their pace attack got exposed in the last 2 games vs Sri Lanka and India. So in this Asia Cup, we got a reality check that Pakistan’s middle overs bowling is very average in picking up wickets when there is nothing to offer from the pitch at the front.
Naseem Shah’s injury has been a major talking point as he is one of the best pacers going around in world cricket not only in Pakistan. Pakistan still has a very decent chance to win the CWC as they have got a very fine top 3 and a still good pace bowling attack including the likes of Shaheen Shah and Haris Rauf and a talented spinner in Shadab who can also be a very handy with the bat.
Babar Azam (c), Shadab Khan, Fakhar Zaman, Imam ul-Haq, Abdullah Shafique, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Saud Shakeel, Iftikhar Ahmed, Salman Ali Agha, Mohammad Nawaz, Usama Mir, Haris Rauf, Hasan Ali, Shaheen Afridi and Mohammad Wasim.
Looking at the above squad it looks quite decent but also has some weaknesses. The major talking point apart from Naseem’s injury is the selection of Hasan Ali when he has been absent from Pakistan white ball setup for quite a decent time now but this can be explained as they may have wanted some experience in the team.
There have been constant talks on the omission of Mohd Amir, Sarfaraz Khan (WK) and Imad Wasim. Mohd Amir the apex bowler of Pakistan has been the most lethal performer for them in big tournaments. Sarfaraz Ahmed, a CT-winning captain was left out of the squad long ago as the team wanted to go with Rizwan. Imad Wasim who has been left out is a bowler who can bowl in many phases and is a perfect replacement for like-to-like player Nawaz. Abrar Ahmed a talented leg-break bowler who took 11 wickets in the batting paradise of Multan has also been left out.
Note: The important point is that no Pakistani cricketer from the current squad has ever played a competitive cricket match in India. So it will be a challenging task as it is not like Dubai or Sri Lanka and the conditions change here with the change in geographical positions.
The top order consists of 3 quality ODI Players i.e. Babar Azam, Fakhar Zaman, and Imam ul-Haq. Babar Azam (Poster Boy of Pakistan) is the fastest to 5000 ODI runs and is currently the number 1 Ranked ODI batter in the World. He is a run machine in this format and a very good accumulator of runs who knows how to grind the innings.
Opener Fakhar Zaman is a serial match winner who won Pakistan the CT 2017 with his match-winning 100 vs India and he is the only Pakistani player to score 3 180+ scores in ODIs. His 194 in South Africa remains one of the greatest ODI knocks of all time and his opening partner is a very consistent Imam ul-Haq who knows how to make runs in ODI Cricket. He has scored 6 50 in the last 8 innings and has an average of 50+ in ODIs and Imam is also in the top 5 ODI batting rankings.
The Shaheen Factor is the biggest threat any opponent will have facing Pakistan. The tall left-arm pacers generate swing at the top and are known for picking early wickets. He is the youngest to get 5 wicket haul in CWC. Afridi’s most remarkable performance was against India in the 2021 WT20 picking 3-31 getting the likes of Rohit, Rahul and Kohli and winning Pakistan there first WC match against India.
Haris Rauf the pace sensation widely known for his pace as well as the 2 sixes he conceded vs. Virat. Although he is also a brilliant enforcer in the middle overs and can pick up wickets. He hits the deck hard followed by a slower off break with a pace difference of 20+ Kmph so Rauf is also a very clever bowler to pick up and will be key to Pakistan’s fortunes in the CWC.
Fakhar Zaman’s Form and Middle Order
Fakhar Zaman’s form will be a big concern for Pakistan as the Southpaw hasn’t got any runs in the last 7,8 games. He will have to play a huge role in Pakistan’s campaign.
The middle order consists of Mohd Rizwan, Agha Salman, Iftikhar Ahmed and Shadab as the all-rounder. Mohd Rizwan’s ODI cricket record isn’t that impressive but he has got runs this year and will look to continue this form. Agha Salman has been a flop in the Asia Cup so he will have the pressure to perform followed by Ifti Ahmed who has got tons of experience but will have to see him consistently nailing that no. 6 and 7 roles for Pakistan with Shadab Khan.
Spin Department and Fielding
Shadab Khan and Nawaz are the 2 Spinners who will start the XI and will be the key as Pakistan cannot qualify without a performing spin attack. Also in the absence of Naseem Shah, it will be on their shoulders to perform In the middle overs and pick wickets.
Fielding is also a huge concern for Pakistan and their poor fielding has resulted them many defeats in the past. They also have to look at who is their 2nd or 3rd best fielder after Shadab Khan.
Probable Playing XI
- Fakhar Zaman
- Imam ul-Haq
- Babar Azam(c)
- Mohammad Rizwan(wk)
- Agha Ali Salman
- Iftikhar Ahmed
- Shadab Khan
- Mohammad Nawaz
- Hasan Ali
- Shaheen Shah Afridi
- Haris Rauf
Pakistan might be tempted to start with Fakhar in the WC and they should surely do the same because of the big match experience that Fakhar holds. But Abdullah Shafique shouldn’t be ignored as he is a quality right-handed batter who opens for them in test cricket and has done very well also. He opened in the Asia Cup in the virtual knockout game for them and made 52. So it will be interesting if Fakhar gets a long run or Shafique gets a chance (if Fakhar fails to perform)
Shakeel is a very good player of spin who announced himself in the Sri Lanka test series and will be in the reckoning of Babar Azam as Salman’s form is a concern starting into the World Cup.
Usama Mir for Nawaz or Shadab? Usama Mir is a skitty leg spinner who will be a good choice in fast Indian pitches like Bangalore and Kolkata where spin is negotiable so you need someone quicker off the pitch and air. Also, the form of Nawaz and Shadab has to be taken into consideration as they had a very middling Asia Cup.
Hasan Ali or Mohd Wasim Jr.? Pakistan has a very experienced campaigner named Hasan Ali for them as the replacement for Naseem Shah and before that, they had Wasim Jr. in their squad so whom will they find comfortable to start with?
Pakistan will start the tournament with a comparatively easy game against the Dutch on 6th October at the bouncy Hyderabad then will play the next one vs Sri Lanka in the same venue against whom they have got 3 defeats in the last 3 multinational tournaments games.
In their third game, Babar Azam and company will appear in the Mother of All battles against India which will be played at the Ahmedabad’s Narendra Modi stadium with a sitting capacity of over 1 lakh people. Ahmedabad offers swing at the top and gets easier to bat as the game progresses.
Then they will take on the mighty Aussies at high-scoring Chinnaswamy so again it will be challenging for them if they can stop the Aussies in par total or let them make an above-par total.
Pakistan will play against the ace spin attack of Afghanistan on a slowish Chepauk wicket that will be a good contest to look after. Pakistan will then go hand in hand vs. South Africa in the Chepauk at the middle of the tournament so turn will also be a big factor as the wickets would have been used more.
They will take on Bangladesh in Eden Gardens starting as the favourites to win the match at this historic venue. Pakistan will then take on New Zealand in another anticipated high-scoring match in Chinnaswamy. Boult and Shaheen might get some swing at the top as it is situated at a high altitude.
In their last group stage game, they will play vs. England in the pacey and bouncy Eden Gardens which has completely changed In the last 5 years from a spin paradise to one of the fastest pitches in the world with a lot of runs in it.
Players to Watch Out For
Shaheen Shah Afridi
The most important asset for Pakistan will be their ace pacer Shaheen Shah as in the absence of Naseem he has the extra responsibility to get more wickets from the top and also work as a middle-over influencer and finish the innings with 2-3 overs in the last 10 overs.
His left-arm angle will help him to generate inswing vs. the right-handers at a good height and he can exploit the likes of Chinnaswamy, Hyderabad and Eden Gardens with his accuracy and movement at the top. Working with Morne Morkel, Shaheen has also developed a straight bowl angling away from the right-hander.
The poster boy of Pakistan and widely regarded as the best batter in the world across formats in the last 3/4 years, Babar Azam will be a key to Pakistan with his captaincy and batting. Leading from the front will be Babar’s motive and as this is his first tour to India and he will be pretty excited about it. Since the 2019 CWC, he has scored over 2419 ODI runs averaging 66+ and at a strike rate of 93.
A guy who is struggling with form will be the key in the middle overs for Pakistan as they have to get those breakthroughs in the middle phase and his fielding and batting will be handy in these conditions. According to the situation, the team might promote him up the order.
As always we say cometh the hour cometh the man, Fakhar is that guy for Pakistan who can turn up on big matches and can win Pakistan games single-handedly out of nowhere. So it will be exciting to see how he starts in the tournament. Fakhar was dropped one night before the match against Sri Lanka in the Asia Cup and then he played the game the next day so it will be interesting to see if it damages his confidence or not.
This Cricket World Cup will be very crucial for Babar and the company as this might be their last chance to show the world what they are capable of. Despite a lot of criticism going around them, it will be wonderful to watch if they can perform up to their potential and qualify for the semis. An untested middle order, an average spin attack, and a lack of experience in India will be the minus points here for them. They will be the dark horse in the tournament.