Can Pakistan defy the odds in the Champions Trophy?
It will be a mistake to count Pakistan out even before the tournament has started.
Updated - May 28, 2017 6:18 pm
Pakistan might have a very slim chance of defying the odds and winning the prestigious ICC Champions Trophy but having said that there is no harm in being optimistic about Team Pakistan’s chances at this cracking event. Slotted in group B, Pakistan will play the tournament opener against arch-rivals India, who are also the defending champions, followed by the number 1 ranked ODI side South Africa and finally, the Men in Green will close out their group stage matches by facing fellow Asian side Sri Lanka.
It is perhaps a blessing in disguise that both neighbouring sides, India and Pakistan, begin their journey with this high profile encounter as it gets the teams and fans charged up. Both the sides have been part of some exhilarating matches in the past, be it any level, which is precisely the reason why the team winning this match can kick start their campaign in the best possible manner.
If things go according to plan for the green shirts against India, they can carry that momentum into the rest of tournament and it won’t be surprising if they go all the way in this mega event.
What does the team stand?
Being one of the weakest teams in the tournament, Pakistan have got their work cut out right from the outset and they will have to play out of their skins to win this prestigious event.
They are coming into this tournament with an improved level of confidence after a series win over West Indies which was also the first assignment for the new captain Sarfraz Ahmed. His leadership skills will come under the microscope as a lot will rely on how he carries this side during the crunch moments.
Pakistan has also got their 2019 World Cup qualification at stake and they can avoid playing the qualification tournament by putting up a good show in the tournament.
Batsmen have to fire!
It seems likely that Pakistan will go with Azhar Ali, who is making a comeback, once again for the opening position because you need someone at the top to counter the moving ball in English conditions and Azhar seems well equipped to do that. But having said that he bats at his own pace which is why it is of the essence that the batsmen around him complement Azhar by batting at a higher strike rate. Pakistan can’t afford two batsmen at the top of the order batting at a strike of mere 70s at the start of an innings as it will put too much pressure on the middle and lower order.
In the recently concluded ODI series against West Indies, Pakistan played a whole lot of dot balls which is a cardinal sin in today’s day and age and this factor becomes even more devastating when you lack players who can score at a brisk pace and clear the boundary regularly. If somehow Pakistan can manage to keep the scoreboard ticking, the pressure naturally shifts towards the opposition and this is when they can capitalise and score runs freely.
Pakistan’s middle order has been in decent form of late with Babar Azam, Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik doing the bulk of the scoring. It will be crucial to Pakistan’s progression in the tournament that they continue their good run of form and keep piling on the runs.
Finishing the innings on a high is of pivotal importance for any team in ODIs and it will be the same for the Men in Green. Keeping in mind that Pakistan lacks power hitters lower down the order; the onus will be on the lower middle order and the likes of Imad Wasim and Sarfraz Ahmed to provide impetus at the end.
Can the bowlers pack a punch?
Pakistan has a pretty decent bowling attack which is quite capable of troubling any batting line-up especially considering the English conditions. It is of pivotal importance that the bowlers settle into their groove quickly enough and ensure that there are not let-offs from their side as it could prove detrimental for the side.
Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz are the two senior bowlers in the squad and the team will rely on them to provide breakthroughs whenever the ball is thrown to them. Pakistan is lucky to have found a skilful bowler, who works his heart out and has a clever approach towards the game, in the shape of Hasan Ali. The 23-year-old fast bowler has quickly risen through the ranks and is now a potent part of the bowling attack and that too in a very short span of time.
The 18-year-old PSL sensation Shadab Khan is one of the most talked about cricketers in Pakistan right now and the fans have naturally pinned high hopes on him. He is an extremely talented leg spinner who has the ability to bamboozle the batsmen with his variety but having said that he still is relatively inexperienced pinning high hopes from the youngster is not the right ploy. Pakistan have just got to let him be himself, as it will bring out his A game, rather than make him carry a load of the nation’s expectations.
Pakistan also has Imad Wasim and Mohammad Hafeez in the spinning department who have done well with the ball recently but they will be tested in less helpful conditions of England. They might be targeted by the opposition in the middle overs and it is crucial that they carve out a plan to avoid being victimised.
Fielding is perhaps one of the most neglected parts of Pakistan cricket which not in line with the way other teams approach the game these days. It is quite apparent that cricket, in general, has become considerably in the batsman’s favour, for instance, due to big bats and short boundaries, which stresses the importance on raising your levels in the fielding department in order to save runs and ensure that batsmen have to work harder for their runs.
Pakistan, although have a fairly young side, despite the fact that fielders are sometimes not too keen on putting their bodies on the line and make an extra effort in this area. Ground fielding aside, there is absolutely no room for dropping catch because batsmen can go on to hurt you rather badly when presented with a lifeline. It is about time that the Pakistani contingent realises the importance of a top fielding unit and make a difference in the field.
There is absolutely no doubt that the upcoming Champions Trophy will be a stern test for Pakistan and they might not even go a long way in the tournament but having said that it will be a mistake to count them out even before the tournament has started.
– Written by Muneeb Farrukh