ICC World Cup: Can this Pakistan Squad Really Go All The Way?
It has been twenty years now since Pakistan made it to a World Cup final. The last time was in England in 1999 when Wasim Akram’s team was humbled by Australia in a low-scoring contest.
Since then, Pakistan has made the semi-final just once in 2011 and has flattered to deceive in every other World Cup.
The story about Pakistan has always been about a squad who are unpredictable and can surprise any side on their day. Their 2017 Champions Trophy triumph is a good reference point for all Pakistan watchers. Out of nowhere, Pakistan managed to turn the tables on India in the final and lift the trophy.
Nothing symbolised Pakistan cricket more than that 2017 Champions Trophy victory.
Since then however, Pakistan has been absolutely below par in all ODI cricket. The side has been through a churn and there is renewed criticism about the personnel in the current team.
The reason for this criticism has been the recent spate of losses that the side has suffered. The Sarfaraz Ahmed led in fact enter the ICC World Cup on the back of 10 straight ODI defeats.
Skipper Sarfaraz Facing the Heat
The man at the centre of all criticism has been the captain Sarfaraz. He was the toast of the nation when he led Pakistan to the Champions Trophy title. But with form being fickle, Sarfaraz has borne the brunt of all criticism that his side has faced. Lots of conspiracy theories are abound about how he himself is under pressure to retain his place in the squad.
There were theories also that he could well be replaced as skipper for the World Cup. The performances by back-up wicket-keeper Mohammed Rizwan against Australia even raised speculations about his requirement in the side. Thankfully for Sarfaraz, Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman Ehsan Mani publicly backed him and named him skipper for the World Cup. But despite the public backing, Sarfaraz had to face uncomfortable questions about his position.
Lots of other candidates were bandied about as possible replacements, including veteran Shoaib Malik. But ultimately the TINA (there is no alternative) factor meant that Sarfaraz retained his role as captain of Pakistan.
However, all the recent talk about him has increased the pressure on Sarfaraz. His job is on the line, because Pakistan will not settle for anything less than a title in the World Cup.
Pakistan head coach Mickey Arthur is also another man who has his head on the chopping block. He has been a polarising figure in Pakistan cricket. He has been accused of running the side with only his favourites.
Lot of the domestic stalwarts and battle scarred veterans have been either discarded or discounted in Arthur’s regime. Hence every slip-up by the side is magnified because it is perceived to be Arthur’s failure. Like his previous stints with Australia and South Africa, in Pakistan too Arthur has been nothing less than controversial in his tenure.
One of the men who has been considered to be close to Arthur has been controversial paceman Mohammed Amir. Since his return from the fixing ban, Amir has been a mixed bag with the ball. There has therefore been a lot of criticism about the way Amir has been protected by Arthur.
In the 2017 Champions Trophy final, the pacer struck crucial blows to snuff out India’s chances. But since that day, Amir has picked just five wickets in 15 ODIs with an economy rate of 4.58. It is said that Amir, who was initially left out of the squad for the World Cup, has been recalled only because of his economy rate.
The other controversial choice in the World Cup squad has been that of Wahab Riaz. Since that steamy spell against Australia’s Shane Watson during the 2015 World Cup, Riaz has been completely sidelined in all formats.
Riaz has never been economical, but his spells have been full of fire. Chairman of selectors Inzamam-ul-Haq announced in April while naming the preliminary Wold Cup squad that Riaz was no longer in their plans. But the spate of defeats, including especially during the batting contests in recent England series, forced a rethink. Riaz’s role is specific to bowl at the death and reverse the ball.
Riaz’s return has meant that the other left-armer Junaid Khan missed out on a place. But there are a couple of youngsters Shaheen Shah Afridi and Mohammed Hasnain who have leapfrogged in recent times. Hasnain specially has been named for his 90 miles per hour bowling. Pakistan pace attack forever famed for his raw speed, had been lacking fire for a long time.
Pakistan’s spinners are the weakest link in the squad. They have only leg-spinner Shadab Khan as the sole specialist slow bowler. The others are a mix of part-timers and batting all-rounders like Imad Wasim and Harris Sohail. This gaping hole could come back to haunt Pakistan during the World Cup, as most captains have identified spinners in the middle phase as the key to success.
The batting as usual is the weaker link of the Pakistan squad. Pakistan opener Imam-ul-Haq has been a controversial choice because he is a nephew of Inzamam. Despite his runs, Imam is considered to be what Pakistanis love to label a ‘parchi player’. But Imam’s partnership with Fakhar Zaman at the top of the order has been a big talking point for Pakistan. Zaman’s hundred sank India famously in the Champions Trophy final. The other big star in Pakistan line-up is Babar Azam, who has been the most consistent batsman in all formats.
Pakistan batting has plenty of experience in the shape of Malik and Mohammad Hafeez, but do not have enough firepower at the death. Pakistan bating has not achieved totals that England’s or India’s gun batting line-up has managed in ODI cricket in recent times. That has been the biggest criticism of Pakistan in ODI cricket in recent years.
Recent debacles mean Pakistan has problems aplenty on their plate going into the World Cup. But no side other than Pakistan have the ability to overcome those problems.
Expect one thing for certain, the most entertaining press conferences will be that of Pakistan’s. No cricket side functions with fear of media criticism as much as Pakistan. So expect Pakistan to tread with caution when it comes to taking tough calls during the World Cup.