Pakistan head to the group stages of the World Cup as they look to claim their first title since 1992. The squad arrived in England early to play a One Day International series against the host nation and will be hoping that those experiences can give them an advantage over other visiting countries that have just arrived.
The results from that series were, however, disappointing and they were followed by defeat in the warm up match to Afghanistan. There is the talent to recover but in this guide we will look at the character of this Pakistan squad. What is the make-up of the side and who are the personalities that can help them succeed?
He’s not everybody’s first choice as squad captain but there can be no doubt that Sarfaraz Ahmed is a passionate leader. At times, his displeasure with his players is all too evident in the wake of a poor shot, a bad delivery or an embarrassing piece of fielding.
Some might say that his attitude can put pressure on the younger players in particular but hopefully they can be inspired to step up and do better for their skipper. There can be no doubt that Sarfaraz deserves his place in the side as a wicket keeper / batsman however and he can lead by example with both the gloves and the bat.
Experienced Middle Order
They say that you can’t buy experience so, based on that theory, Pakistan’s middle order batting is priceless. Here we have two key players with a combined age of 75 and no fewer than 494 ODIs between them. It’s incredible to think that Shoaib Malik made his one day international debut back in 1999 and here he is, nearly twenty years later, looking to guide Pakistan to glory.
Mohammad Hafeez completes the veteran duo and their role in the batting line up can take one of two forms. If the top order has built a solid platform, they can score quickly and advance the total but, if there has been something of a collapse ahead of them, Shoaib and Hafeez have the quality to rebuild the Pakistan innings.
They may not grab all the headlines in this squad but the two most experienced players could be the most important for Pakistan as this tournament develops.
The style of modern day 50 over cricket has evolved since the inception of T20. Since the last World Cup in 2015, we’ve seen new batting totals recorded and more scores approaching and exceeding the 400 mark.
Pakistan will need to keep pace with this modern style of play and on flat surfaces in the UK, they have the players to take full advantage. The most explosive batsman in the squad is Fakhar Zahman who warmed up for the World Cup with 138 from 106 balls in May’s ODI series with England.
The left hander was the hero of Pakistan’s 2017 ICC Trophy win and he will look to maintain an ODI strike rate that sits just below 100.00. Babar Azam and Imam-ul-Haq also registered tons in that series with England and, while they don’t always score as rapidly as Fakhar Zahman, they have the capacity to get their side off to vital fast starts.
The Pakistani batting unit looks to have a good balance but what about the bowling? The tourists conceded heavily against England and that led to two significant changes to the preliminary World Cup squad with Wahab Riaz and Mohammad Amir stepping in. Both have good experience of playing in English conditions and perhaps that was one key reason for their inclusion.
The seam attack now looks to have some pace and swing but form may be an issue. With the raw pace of teenage quick Shaheen Afridi thrown in, this is an area that could be vulnerable for Pakistan at this year’s tournament.
To win a World Cup in the modern era, a team needs a mystery spinner so there will be huge pressure on Shadab Khan. If there is one player in this 2019 squad who could be listed as pivotal then it’s the 20 year old leg spinner. With Yasir Shah struggling for form and omitted from the selection process, Shadab needs to step up and take greater responsibility. He has the talent but can he sustain form through a long competition having just returned from illness?
Shadab has played just 34 ODI matches with a relatively modest haul of 47 wickets but his remaining stats are impressive. He has a best of 4/28, an average of 27.74 and a tight economy rate of 4.80. The youngster will get support in the slow bowling department from Imad Wasim and also from Shoaib Malik whose occasional off spin has proved useful at times during that long career. It’s a slow bowling unit with that same mix of youthful talent and experienced heads but can it help Pakistan to their first World Cup in 27 years?
Finding a Balance
We’ve talked about balance throughout this review and there are areas where Pakistan look to have that quality in abundance. Their strength surely lies in that batting unit which will need to score heavily and probably exceed their current record total in the World Cup which stands at a modest 349.
There is passion in this Pakistan side too and there are echoes of the 1992 squad which brought home the trophy for the first time. Sarfaraz Ahmed may not be as calm as Imran Khan but he believes in this squad and will need to show true leadership on the field.
If there is a concern, it lies with that bowling unit which was changed on the eve of the tournament. The Pakistan selectors have gambled by bringing back Riaz and Amir but there was really no option following the heavy defeats against England. Will the changes lead to a tournament winning squad or will Pakistan have to wait another four years for the chance of World Cup glory?