Birmingham: The event for Pakistan Cricket Team’s bat signing & headshots in new kit for ICC Champions Trophy 2017 was held in Birmingham, England.
The team has not won ICC Champions Trophy yet and start as underdogs out to prove point.
Time and again, Pakistan cricket team has managed to confound the fans and experts alike with its performance. The side, which has invariably been termed mercurial, plays off-beat cricket, marked often by momentary highs and abysmal lows.
They have lost when backed to win, and won when being completely written off. Nobody expected them to win the World Cup in 1992 or the World T20 in 2009. One of the strongest sides they ever fielded lost the final of 1999 World Cup in a bizarre fashion. Their brand of cricket, thus, has been ‘extreme.’ The team has never managed to find a golden mean.
Every tournament they play, their fans expect them to find a middle ground; to play sensible, consistent cricket. ICC Champions Trophy 2017 will be no different.
After Pakistan Cricket Team’s bat signing & headshots in new kit, when they kick off their campaign with a high-pressure clash against arch-rivals India on June 4, not just the fans, but skipper Sarfraz Ahmed would also want the side to hit the ground running.
Of late, the discussions surrounding Pakistan cricket have hardly got anything to do with the cricket they play. The PSL spot-fixing scandal took the sheen off the good work the tournament did to Pakistan cricket.
Then there were the dual retirements of legends Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan (none of whom were playing limited-overs cricket anymore and obviously not present at Pakistan Cricket Team’s bat signing & headshots in new kit event) which overshadowed their maiden Test series win in the Caribbean. Silently somewhere, Sarfraz took over the reins of the limited-overs sides from Azhar Ali, under whom the team suffered five series losses out of ten played.
But with the tournament as big as Champions Trophy — termed as more competitive than the World Cup by Indian captain Virat Kohli — coming up, the spotlight goes back to Pakistan team and their brand of cricket.
Pakistan’s record in ICC Champions Trophy:
The squad for 2017 edition: Sarfraz Ahmed (c), Azhar Ali, Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Hafeez, Babar Azam, Shoaib Malik, Haris Sohail, Fakhar Zaman, Imad Wasim, Hasan Ali, Fahim Ashraf, Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Aamer, Junaid Khan, Shadab Khan.
Let’s understand the Pakistan squad better with the help of a SWOT analysis:
1) Change of Guard: Pakistan cricket were in dire need of fresh guard. The results were not coming, the team was playing outdated brand of ODI cricket. That is why a change in leadership was required. A new face, with fresh approach and ideas was needed at the helm. The board did well in handing over the reins to Sarfraz.
“I think Safi [Sarfraz] is going to come in and offer so much, but that’s not to say Azhar didn’t offer anything,” coach Mickey Arthur had told ESPNCricinfo not long back. “He was a very good captain, tactically and I thought he really did a good job. The selection panel and the PCB just thought that they need to go in another direction and it is closer to the way that Safi enjoys playing. He and I now have to keep driving that without a doubt,” he added, suggesting the faith PCB and the team management has in Sarfraz, the leader. A series win in the Caribbean has ensured Pakistan walk into the Champions Trophy high on confidence under Sarfraz.
2) Novelty: The world has not seen much of this young Pakistan side. The likes of Shadab Khan, find of PSL 2, and Babar Azam, touted as the next big thing in Pakistan cricket, are bound to surprise the opposition. Shadab’s googlies bamboozled the West Indian batsmen, while their bowlers failed to find a way to stop Azam. There are others as well, men who have not been exposed to international cricket as much as some of their counterparts across the world. Pakistan’s ability to shock the opposition with their ‘surprise packages’ thus is likely to prove as their strength.
1) Bowling: Bowling has primarily been Pakistan’s strength. However, in last two years (post 2015 World Cup to be precise), Pakistan’s bowling has been a big letdown. Take a look at few vital stats below, which suggest how poor Pakistan have been on the bowling front. Starting with the bowling economy, Pakistan are better than only England and Sri Lanka.
|Economy Rates since 2015 World Cup|
|Papua New Guinea||6||279||4.87|
In terms of balls per wicket, numbers tell the same story: Pakistan are better only than West Indies and Zimbabwe. In this tournament, they are effectively the side with worst balls per wicket ratio, with their bowlers taking 43 balls to take a wicket.
|Strike Rates since 2015 World Cup|
|Papua New Guinea||1,674||44||38.0|
The worst is yet to come. Among all the teams who play ODI cricket, Pakistan’s bowling average is worst post 2015 World Cup.
|Averages since 2015 World Cup|
|Papua New Guinea||279||30.88|
It is fair to say that bowling, once Pakistan’s citadel, is now thus their biggest weakness.
2) Batting: Batting has predominantly been Pakistan’s Achilles’ heel. They do not have a settled batting order as opposed to some of the other teams. Worse, unlike other teams, Pakistan do not have enough depth in their batting. They will rely heavily on the likes of Azhar Ali, the inconsistent Ahmed Shehzad, an in-form Azam, skipper Sarfraz and the seasoned Shoaib Malik to deliver.
3) Lack of Experience: The likes of Shadab, Azam, Haris Sohail, Fakhar Zaman, Imad Wasim, Hasan Ali and Fahim Ashraf have a collective experience of 88 ODIs amongst them. Pakistan have an unsettled group (unlike England, Bangladesh and South Africa, who have been playing with a settled group of players for last couple of years). The team lacks in experience, and with no Misbah or Younis around, they team will desperately seek inspiration from the seniors.
|Players used since 2015 World Cup|
|Papua New Guinea||15||6|
4) Fitness: If you are to pick the weakest side on the fitness front from all the participating teams in the Champions Trophy, you would perhaps pick Pakistan. Umar Akmal flunking his fitness test in England and being sent back to Pakistan after being named in the original squad does not surprise. The overall fitness standards of the Pakistan side are very poor.
1) Relatively Easier Group: Pakistan are placed with India, Sri Lanka and South Africa in their group. They will fancy their chances versus India, against whom they enjoy a superior record in Champions Trophy as well as in England (identical, 2-1); Sri Lanka, a team whose transition phase does not seem to be ending anytime soon; and South Africa, perennial chokers in ICC events.
2) Conditions on Offer: Pakistan will not mind much playing in England. With the conditions predominantly assisting pace and swing bowling, Pakistan find themselves in a good space. In Mohammad Aamer, Wahab Riaz, Junaid Khan and Hasan Ali, the team has a potent pace attack, which can take down the best of the batting units in the business on its day.
On the other hand, if the conditions on offer are similar to what we witnessed in 2013, where the wickets were usually slow, dry and batsmen-friendly, Pakistan still don’t need to worry. They have their shock bowler in Shadab. Imad and Mohammad Hafeez have impressed with ball, and they are in the side as all-rounders. And despite his age, Malik keeps on chipping in with a few overs in the middle stages of innings.
1) Competitors Far Ahead: The one bad thing for Pakistan cricket in ODIs is that they have fallen behind time and competition. While other teams have kept pace with the evolving ODI cricket, Pakistan have stuck to an outdated brand. Not long back England were blamed for being outdated. However, a disastrous World Cup outing in 2015 brought about revolutionary changes in their setup. Today, under Eoin Morgan, the English side is as good as it gets, notching up 300-plus totals for fun.
The good thing for Pakistan, though, is that they realise the need for revamping the way they play limited-overs cricket. “We need to a) identify the players; b) re-identify the brand; c) put a role for those players within that brand and hopefully they get confident and we see better results. What we do know, though, is that we need to change the way we play one-day cricket because we are playing a very conservative style of one-day cricket. This style doesn’t cut in when other teams are scoring 320-340 so we need to able to match it,” Arthur had told ESPNCricinfo some time back. The threat for Pakistan, in Champion Trophy, would be their own conservative style of cricket.
2) The Predictable Unpredictability: Pakistan’s strength lies in the predictability of their unpredictability, as they have the ability to beat anybody on their day. But this is something they need to be wary of in a fiercely competitive tournament like the Champions Trophy, as at the same time, they possess a knack of losing against any side. They need to be consistent, as their mercurial nature will not do them any good here. But then, you can never tell with Pakistan…
Verdict: The perennial underdogs — at least for last decade or so —Pakistan always start a tournament as outsiders. That has actually worked for them, and has suited their style of cricket. A side of their quality can be written off only at one’s own peril. Can Pakistan make it to the semi-finals? It will be tough, for India and South Africa will start as favourites for the two semi-finalists’ spots from Group B. True, their batting, bowling or fielding does not inspire confidence, but Pakistan will have a point to prove. They will want to prove they can play sensible, consistent cricket. They will want to prove they are much more than an unpredictable side. Most importantly, they will want to play to make Pakistan cricket great again after the needless spot-fixing saga.
Key Players: Shoaib Malik, Sarfraz Ahmed, Mohammad Aamer, Mohammad Hafeez, Wahab Riaz.
Players to watch out for: Babar Azam, Shadab Khan.
Best Result: Semi-final – 2000, 2004, 2009
Fixtures in Champions Trophy 2017:
– Saturday, May 27: Warm-up match vs Bangladesh, Edgbaston
– Monday, May 29: Warm-up match vs Australia, Edgbaston
– Sunday, June 04: vs India, Edgbaston (D)
– Wednesday, June 07: vs South Africa, Edgbaston (D/N)
– Monday, June 12: vs Sri Lanka, Cardiff (D)