Two elements in the universe will remain melodramatic and unrepaired, soap operas and Pakistan cricket. The supporters of the team Green deserves a lifetime achievement award for their tolerance and patience for the team. We are aware of the fact that the national team has more weakness in conceding the match than capabilities to win but it is our love for Pakistani cricket that keeps us hoping that the glory days may return soon.
The domestic infrastructure will take time to improve under the fresh hands of the governance of Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB). International Cricket Council (ICC) is finally admitting of security improvement in the country to stage more cricket matches than in the past. The level of comfort and perception to play in Pakistan has gradually changed.
So there are signs in the coming times that maybe international cricket return to a normal schedule from next year. Prime Minister Imran Khan‘s announcement of staging the entire Pakistan Super League (PSL) in the country next year is delightful and diverting.
But what is the national team’s own justification for the claim on the mega event happening in a couple of months?
Pakistan’s ODI performance since 2017 Champions Trophy
Pakistan stood a ‘TOP’ ODI team for a long period a couple of decades ago but the stance has dropped with quite a huge margin and in the recent years, Pakistan has built no good memories in the format since winning the ICC Champions Trophy (CT). They were invincible against the mediocre teams of Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe beating them 5-0 each but exposed fragilities while losing against the top ODI sides of New Zealand (5-0), South Africa (3-2) and Australia (5-0), the last team arriving in UAE with many key absentees. During this process, they also couldn’t even qualify for the Asia Cup final last year. With such a monumental discrepancy, the certainty of winning the biggest trophy or even doing wonders look highly unlikely.
What went wrong?
The answer to this question deserves its own library bigger than the Library of Congress. But I will highlight a few because I have other things to do in my life.
This question needs a periodic timeline from where I should begin highlighting the issues and even that will take more than a blog, a volume perhaps. So I will set a scale from winning the CT and try to be quick in my argument.
Winning the CT was one of the golden chapters in Pakistan’s cricket history because our accomplishments in this sport are quite limited. The last major trophy Pakistan ever won before this in the format was Asia Cup 2012, thanks to Bangladesh who couldn’t score 9 runs the final over with 3 wickets in hand.
(Pakistan in ODIs has won one World Cup (WC), two Asia Cups, one CT in their history but their major dominance for any trophy in the format was limited to Sharjah Cup which they won 15 times, a record. One major reason how Pakistan has a better head-to-head record against India.)
No World Cup Planning
After winning the CT in 2017, the cricket board should have focused on the WC preparations. They had a two-year time to shape a plan and devise a strategy under which the national team would have analyzed their strength and weakness through a detailed report which would aid them to build a potential team to form a winning combination and maintain it like the top sides.
PCB has a history of lacking long-term plans and that is a major reason why the performance never improves. Their main focus was in organizing PSL every year and making efforts to bring the international cricket back to the country. That even didn’t help the national team. Pakistan couldn’t find a single batting talent through PSLs in four years. Only the foreigners and the already-established batsmen representing the country before PSL’s existence have been performing.
Pakistan holds the reputation of being the factory where the fast bowlers of the supreme quality are manufactured since Fazal Mahmood in the 50s. If the assumption is applied that more newcomers are making their place in the national team since the introduction of PSL then the question is that why PSL has been made a standard or benchmark to launch their careers? What is the use of the domestic one-day and T20 tournaments then?
Lacking cricket at home and unfavorable UAE games
Another major issue is lacking international cricket at home which has disturbed and disrupted the natural self-confidence of playing in front of the home crowd. The borrowed HOME country has been of no use for Pakistan in the ODIs.
A decade has crossed playing ODIs on the pitches of UAE but our performances have only declined. Neither has Pakistan adopted the modern cricket system through the UAE games nor have given many of expected positive results.
On the record, Pakistan has never won a single ODI bilateral series against a ‘TOP’ ODI side (Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, England) in the UAE in the past 10 years!
India didn’t play any bilateral series in this period against Pakistan in the UAE. Pakistan has only taken the pride of defeating West Indies and Sri Lanka in the bilateral series again and again.
To my surprise, PCB never questioned about considering the UAE their home. With dismal performances and ridiculous predictability in failing to perform and conceding the series, fans in the UAE dropped their interest showing up to the stadiums to watch their team doing no favor and therefore the attendance of spectators has dropped more and more.
The recent Pakistan-Australia encounter was played in almost-empty stadiums which is a disgrace. Much of this year’s PSL was organized there before this series and remained cold as dead. The only time the stadium in the PSL went full throughout PSL was the opening day obviously because of the fondness to watch the opening ceremony and the live performances.
To some extent, there were some good decisions helping the team realize their strength. The opening combination of Fakhar Zaman and Imam-ul-Haq gave Pakistan many decent starts and during the process generated enough runs to become one of the quickest to 1000 ODI runs. Babar Azam maintained his superb form and his remarkable scoring consistency, something which most of the Pakistani batsmen traditionally lack. Shaheen Afridi and Usman Shinwari were trusted and did some justice.
But during all this, selectors also made grave mistakes like ignoring Junaid Khan several times disturbing his form due to irregularity, giving too many opportunities to underachiever Faheem Ashraf, emphasizing on ever-failing Mohammad Amir who since his CT final heroics has taken only 5 wickets in 14 ODIs, and depending on the failing veterans, Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik who have scored only 426 runs (16 inns) and 716 runs (25 inns) since the CT glory.
The worst was the ego-bound priority of keeping Wahab Riaz regular in the XI for more than two years for his undoubtedly magnificent spell against Shane Watson in the 2015 World Cup quarterfinal. Since then, he went on to play 25 ODIs taking 25 wickets at a very expensive average of 47.08 and conceding 5.82 runs per over. Out of those 25 games, he conceded 50 runs on 10 occasions. One of those 10 occasions was his unforgettable 0/110 recording the second worst bowling performance in a 10-over quota. He was finally dropped after one bad game against India in 2017 CT and never considered to include in the ODIs.
Testing bench strength 3 months before the World Cup?
Let’s speak about the recent crisis which is not helping me understand the situation. During the South Africa-Pakistan ODI series, captain Sarfraz Ahmed admitted passing racist remark to Andile Phehlukwayo for which he was banned for four games which included the starting games against Australia in the recently concluded series. But PCB decided to completely drop him from the Australia series and give him rest. All the players who played in the South Africa series played PSL but then a few key players like Hasan Ali, Shadab Khan, Shaheen Afridi, and Babar Azam were dropped to play against Australia despite performing well in PSL. Reason? To give them rest after the busy cricketing schedule for the past few months and also judging their bench strength.
Ok first thing, Pakistan hasn’t played enough cricket that their key players are exhausted. Even if I assume that Pakistan played pretty much cricket then why was playing PSL that compulsory? Was playing PSL more important than the Australia series? You could have rested your key players after the South Africa series and played directly in the next. And another point, if they are taking rest, how come Hasan Ali and Babar Azam are playing some Gujranwala Premier League? When the squad to face Australia was announced, the reason for resting key players was to give them rest. Then why were they playing this league? What kind of rest is this?
The second thing is judging your bench strength a couple of months before the mega event is sheer stupidity. If the board was really considering to judge their bench strength, why didn’t the board plan long before this time? How can you judge your bench strength from one series? The pitches of UAE and the WC host England are extremely different.
Then the squad was the question mark. Test fast bowler Mohammad Abbas was selected about whom was rumored to be tried for the WC. There was confusion over him if he should be tried in the ODIs or not. But the problem is timing. Abbas is playing test cricket for the past two years. Why didn’t the board or the selectors make their mind to introduce him in ODIs sooner than pretty later? The result was disastrous with Abbas ending the series with a forgettable performance.
Another inclusion was of another test player Yasir Shah. If Shadab was to be rested then why did Yasir take his place? PSL wonder boy Umer Khan could have been tried. Why is Amir repeatedly picked after failing again and again? He has been in miserable form and is eating other’s chances. And giving chance to Umar Akmal for the umpteenth time proved that his situation will never change. Umar will do wonders in domestic cricket but will repeat the same mistakes when he will play in international cricket. Picking him was actually the selectors thinking backward.
All these points prove that the PCB didn’t plan anything for the WC. Judging your bench strength is sending your B-team to tour Zimbabwe like Indian cricket board did back in 2016.
What Pakistan must do?
After the disastrous conclusion of being whitewashed against a resurging Australia and failed tests in the laboratory, PCB must finalize the WC squad now and send them to play 5 ODIs against England at their home where the WC will be staged a couple of weeks after the conclusion of this series.
Pakistan is the luckiest of all the WC participants to arrive in the country first and fully take advantage of growing their game on these pitches. Pakistan is even playing three limited over games against county clubs and two warm-up practice matches after the series and before the big event which means 10 games of quality practice before the mega event begins. This is more than enough preps any WC participant can ask for.
If Pakistan finalizes the WC squad after the England series then that will be the dumbest of all the decisions PCB has ever made. Because it makes no sense to make changes in the squad after the final preps. Play your 15 men in 10 of those English games to be more prepared than the others.
My 15-Man World Cup Squad
I am mentally prepared to see PCB make a mockery of the selection as they have historically attempted before. That is why under the heading, I am listing the 15 names of what I believe should enter the mega event, not PCB.
Captain and wicketkeeper: Sarfraz Ahmed
Openers: Imam-ul-Haq, Fakhar Zaman, Abid Ali
All-Rounders: Shadab Khan, Imad Wasim
Bowlers: Hasan Ali, Shaheen Afridi, Junaid Khan, Usman Shinwari, Mohammad Hasnain
Yes, no more Mohammad Amir. We should come out of this delusion that he will do wonders like 2010 English tour or 2017 CT Final. As stated before, this bowler has picked only 5 wickets in 14 ODIs since that Final. We should admit that he doesn’t justify his place.
What makes me pick Hasnain over him is the fact that this teenager is the fastest of all the picked bowlers and his understanding the pitch makes me think that Sarfraz can make better use of him on the English pitches. Sarfraz already has been his captain in PSL. Give him those 10 games, use him properly and he is a threat.
A lot of talk on Shinwari if he is that good to be considered. Yes, he is very expensive in the T20s but when I see 28 wickets in only 15 ODIs which includes 4/35 vs South Africa and 4/49 vs Australia, that speaks a lot. I will count wickets rather than think about being his expensive.
Indeed, we don’t have power hitters, something which almost every top team has the luxury to cash on. It is highly unfortunate that Pakistan couldn’t produce a single power hitter in all these years. That is why I am bound to pick out of form but heavily experienced Shoaib Malik over him who should come at no.6 and try to accelerate the run rate.
Shadab Khan is must in every single game, he is a genuine spinner with the heavy assistance on batting when in crisis. Haris and Rizwan with two centuries in the latest series cannot be imagined to be ignored for the WC. Babar needs to drop some weight of middle-order responsibility with their support.
Abid Ali is definitely the third opener of my squad who justified his selection by recently scoring a wonderful hundred on his debut. Imam-Fakhar is the permanent pair and this should not change for a long time, even after the World Cup. These openers are the quickest to 1000 ODI runs, something which never happened in ODI history before. Imam has proven against the South Africa series that he can score against the biggies and should not be dropped from any game. We fans should stop voicing against this kind of nepotism because at least this lad is performing.
What my picked batsmen have to do while constructing the inning is to accelerate the run rate, score more boundaries, reduce the percentage of dot deliveries and try to convert their twenty-five into the fifties and fifties into hundreds. There is not a single instance of a middle-order century for Pakistan in the World Cups since 1987. All the hundreds since 1992 have been scored by the openers. So this curse should end and I have high hopes that at least Babar can do it.
WC glory chances? Extremely low. And just like the previous edition, consideration of their reaching the semis will be a miracle. But this is exactly how Pakistan won all the three major trophies. They were not expected to do anything special in 1992, 2009 and 2017 but shocked the global cricket community. So whatever and whenever the squad is finalized, let us hope Pakistan does their best and not let us down. Hoping is living.