Since the fabulous win in the Champions trophy in April 2015 in England against India, Pakistan’s fortunes have been on a perpetual decline. They have won just 9 games out of the 42 they have played against the teams that have qualified for the World Cup since then. Their performance against major opponents, be it Australia, England, New Zealand and even someone like Bangladesh has been dismal in this period. They have succumbed to defeats in all four matches against Bangladesh and lost in all of their last five games to New Zealand, previous five to Australia and four to England. In all they have lost ten of their last 11 ODIs, the only unbeaten one being ironically a “no result” game.
But all is not dark and dreary for the 1992 World Cup champions. The sub-continent side’s Champions trophy win in 2015 is an indicator that they have the ability to come good on big occasions. As for the present, they really have a good top three when it comes to batting. The arrival of Imam-ul-Haq has given hope to that department. The bespectacled Haq has averaged a spectacular 60.8 from the 28 games he has played since 2015 with a splendid 151 not out against England being his highest score. Haq has the company of the likes of Fakar Zaman and Babar Azam, all of whom lend solid quality to the Pakistani top order. As a result, the team is getting off to good starts and getting 300-plus runs more regularly and that too in England recently. In the 32-year old Sarfraz Ahmed, they have a really good leader and a top quality wicket-keeper batsman who can hold up an innings lower down in case of crisis. The bereaved Asif Ali, re-joining the team after the tragic demise of his daughter, can be hungry run-accumulator coming in at No.4 or 5, as the situation demands. But the Pakistanis may most probably choose to go with experience and calm nerves of people like Mohammed Hafeez and Shoab Malik with the latter known for his counter-attacking qualities under pressure and some really destructive death-overs hitting. For the Nos 7 and 8 slots they can always fall back on the lanky Welsh born all-rounder Imad Wasim who can bowl slow left-arm spin and can wield the bat a bit and the 20-year old Shadab Khan who can bowl leg-breaks, bat well and contribute as a brilliant fielder to boot. Which means Pakistan have a batting that goes deep, right up to No. 8.
The country’s unending supply of fast-bowlers continues with the outstanding 19-year old Shaheen Afridi who has been into wickets of late but worryingly giving away too many runs. One major omission, though, from the squad has been Mohammad Amir who created a stir in the Champions Trophy final against India with some sensational left-arm swing bowling. But Amir’s form has deteriorated dramatically since then, getting just 5 wickets from his last 15 games and conceding too many runs. Hasan Ali is another example of a bowler losing his verve overnight. The experienced Wahab Riyaz, who is in the squad, is past his prime and hasn’t done anything special since his one-over dream spell to Watson years ago. So, while there is hope in the batting there’s nothing to rejoice for the fans when it comes to their bowling (which surprisingly was their forte not very long ago). The bowling that has been leaking runs aplenty will have to step up big time, for this is one major reason for Pakistan’s profusion of losses of late.
Pakistan’s chances of reaching the last four of the ICC World Cup 2019 don’t look very bright. But then one can never tell about the mercurial Pakistanis. They can be down in the dumps one day and world-beaters the next.