Pakistan are a mercurial team. You don’t know which Pakistan team will turn up for a match. Pakistan are at their most dangerous when they have been written off…
We have been there and heard that numerous times. The ‘unpredictable’ tune was predictably played out at Trent Bridge on Monday after Pakistan beat tournament favourites England by 14 runs.
In many ways, it was a result that shouldn’t have materialised the way it did. England was astonishingly poor in the field, dropping Mohammad Hafeez on 14 who went on to make 84 and other misfields, overthrows and wides costing the team an additional 25-30 runs.
Then star batsmen Joe Root and Jos Buttler hit fine centuries in pursuit of a World Cup record target of 349, which was very much within reach of the 2019 England team. But not against a ‘mercurial’ Pakistan.
So instead of marvelling at the mystic nature of Pakistan’s cricket, it would be prudent to look at the simple selection decisions that Sarfraz Ahmed and co made after the thrashing they received at the hands of West Indies in the World Cup opener, which ultimately helped them get the better of England.
Firstly, Pakistan doubled down on experience for the England clash, which is what you need when the pressure is on. Left-arm pacers Wahab Riaz and Mohammad Amir were again entrusted with leading the bowling on arguably the flattest pitch on the planet. All-rounder Imad Wasim made way for Shoaib Malik, even though the veteran languished down the batting order. Hafeez was kept in the team despite looking all at sea against the short ball against the Windies.
The end result was a thoroughly clinical effort by almost every single member of the team in Nottingham.
Veteran Hafeez had a bumper day as he first top scored for his team and then followed it up with the crucial wicket of captain Eoin Morgan and also a catch. Captain Sarfraz was busier than usual during his 44-ball 55 and helped Pakistan post a challenging 348-8.
With the ball, Amir and Wahab picked up five wickets between them and even though the latter went at eight an over, his wickets came at crucial junctures.
Malik’s dismissal of Ben Stokes – caught behind while trying to cut – can’t be ignored as the all-rounder could have inflicted some serious damage on a true pitch.
So while it might seem as if Pakistan simply closed their eyes and dived head first into the match, in reality they backed tried-and-tested players who know how to handle the pressure of a World Cup.
The Pakistan line-up right now is near perfect with a good mix of youth and experience. Also, they bat deep with either Malik or Asif Ali coming in at No7 and Shadab at No8.
Furthermore, Sarfraz has six regular bowling options with a healthy balance of seam and spin. Obviously, one win doesn’t mean it’s job done for Pakistan as there are seven more matches to go. Problems persist, be it the hit-and-miss style of opener Fakhar Zaman or the uninspiring displays of key pacer Hasan Ali.
But there is quality and belief in this Pakistan team. By backing the right personnel early on in the tournament, Sarfraz has avoided the need for unnecessary experimentation later on. Maybe Pakistan can bring in young quicks Shaheen Afridi or Mohammad Hasnain against ‘weaker’ teams to test their mettle but the current line-up looks their best one on every parameter.
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