Pakistan bowling legend Waqar Younis feels the form of Mohammed Hafeez and Shoaib Malik will be key as an inexperienced Pakistan side chase their first-ever ICC Champions Trophy.
Pakistan became the world No1 Test team in 2016, but have struggled in the 50-over format lately.
They qualified for the Champions Trophy as the eighth-ranked nation when the cut-off was applied in September 2015, and their position in the ICC ODI rankings hasn’t changed in the time since then.
In the past year, Pakistan have won eight of their 17 ODI matches, but five have come against the West Indies and one against Ireland; both teams failing to make it to England for the championship.
Waqar agreed that the team’s chances are not great this year, but like millions of fans have come to expect from Pakistan, he too is banking on their unpredictability.
In Dubai as part of official broadcaster OSN’s specialist panel, Waqar was honest in his assessment.
“Realistically, they have a very small chance, but you can’t write them off,” said Younis, who has had stints as national head coach as well as the bowling coach.
“They need to make a good start to the tournament, and it is a big game for them first up. If they do well against India, you never know about Pakistan. We have always talked about their unpredictability. If they get the momentum going, if they get their combination right, they can beat any side in the world.”
Waqar claims for Pakistan to do well, 36-year-old Hafeez and 35-year-old Malik – two of only four players in the squad over 30 – will be key.
“I think the Pakistani bowling line-up overall is pretty good; it is the batting that is a little bit of a worry,” said Younis.
“I am expecting Hafeez and Malik to step up and take the responsibility. They did so admirably in the West Indies, so there is no reason why they can’t do it again. I want to see them produce the goods for Pakistan, because they are the most experienced players in the side.
“But I am very impressed with the bowling attack. Players like Hasan Ali and Shadab Khan are young and very exciting to watch. I am looking forward to watching Mohammed Amir bowl. They bring a lot of energy to the team.”
Waqar alluded to the need for the team to make a good start, but they are up against arch-rivals India, against whom Pakistan have struggled in ICC tournaments with their last of only two wins coming in the group stages of 2009 Champions Trophy in South Africa.
So, how should the Pakistan team approach the match against India?
“It’s not a matter of motivating them, because no matter what, the pressure will be there,” said Waqar.
“There is no way you can escape the pressure because there are so many people who are watching this game.
“As long as they are calm, they will be able to handle it. That’s where the coaches come in. They will have to get the players to relax and ask them to play their natural game.
“Let’s not forget that Pakistan has got less to lose than India, who face more expectation being the defending champions.”
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