It was the kind of thrill every team looks to avoid. Pakistan scraped through to the Champions Trophy by the skin of their teeth, beating West Indies by just two points to claim their spot in the eight-team tournament. But they did what was needed to be done, if only just, and can now look at ensuring they show why they belong.
The Pakistan squad is far from the ones that sent shivers down opponents’ spine in former world events. They are still as capricious as they were, and are capable of spontaneously combusting as they are of raining hell on the opposition. They main question will always remain about which Pakistan turns up on which day.
The format of the ICC Champions Trophy can be unforgiving, but that will also add a hint of optimism for teams that might not be considered favourites. Pakistan are placed alongside South Africa, India and Sri Lanka. They will fancy themselves over Sri Lanka, while a win over either South Africa or India should keep them in contention for a semi-final spot.
The corruption scandal in the Pakistan Super League saw them lose Sharjeel Khan, and much later, Umar Akmal was sent back home after failing fitness tests. Even before the tournament kick starts, Pakistan find themselves under the pump, but as is often the case, that is exactly when Pakistan come back hard.
Strengths: Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Amir and Junaid Khan form a formidable pace attack, one that the team will hope comes good in England. Junaid Khan’s swing will be a potent factor, while Amir and Wahab can hit the batsmen with pace if swing doesn’t really work for them. That said, Wahab and Junaid haven’t really hit the highs in recent times, and they will hope to hit the ground running in England. Hasan Ali and Shadab Khan too look in-form and would be itching to make their presence felt.
Pakistan also have good all-rounders in Shoaib Malik, Mohammad Hafeez and Haris Sohail, who will act as dependable back-up bowling options should the main ones misfire.
Pakistan’s middle-order bears a solid look with Hafeez and Malik adding much needed steel and experience. With captain Sarfraz Ahmed too slotted in the middle-order, much responsibility will fall on their shoulders.
Weakness: Pakistan’s ODI form against the teams playing in Champions Trophy leaves little to admire. They have only won twice in their last 16 matches against these opponents. With the team also losing two key batsmen, the lack of experience at the top of the order and in England conditions could come back to bite them.
They also lack a big hitter who could apply the finishing touches to innings. Fahim Ashraf proved he can play that role, slamming a 30-ball 64 against Bangladesh in the warm-up to help chase
Ahmed Shehzad has only one fifty in his last nine ODIs, and needs to find form soon. Likewise, Azhar Ali, who quit as captain earlier this year, has not been in great form either. He did score a hundred against West Indies in October last year, but his three games this year have seen him return with scores of 24, 7 and 6. Much will depend on the in-form Babar Azam to shore up the top-order.
Opportunities: The group Pakistan find themselves in will give them much hope. Sri Lanka, despite their superior position in the rankings column, offer Pakistan a good chance of a win. They will also be happy that they get their toughest game, against arch-rivals India, done with at the start. A win there could really be a shot in the arm.
Threats: The ICC World Cup maybe two years away, but Pakistan’s spot at the premier ODI event is far from assured. They are currently in eighth spot, the last spot for direct qualification, and will need a good tournament to widen the gap between them and ninth-placed West Indies. The cut off, September 30, is not far away, and Pakistan will want to take every opportunity they get to ensure direct qualification and rid themselves of more thrill on the way to another ICC event.
Babar Azam and Shoaib Malik have been Pakistan’s men in form with the bat. In the series against Pakistan, the duo averaged above 75, and Pakistan will fervently hope that they can continue to do the same in the Champions Trophy. Sarfraz Ahmed and Mohammad Hafeez did not do too badly either.
Amongst the bowlers, Imad Wasim and Shadab Khan did well in the Caribbean while Mohammad Amir proved that he has not lost much of his zing.
Squad Break up:
Batsmen: Azhar Ali, Babar Azam, Fakhar Zaman, Ahmed Shehzad
All-rounders: Haris Sohail, Shoaib Malik, Imad Wasim, Mohammad Hafeez, Fahim Ashraf
Wicket-keepers: Sarfraz Ahmed
Spinners: Shadab Khan
Pacers: Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Amir, Hasan Ali, Junaid Khan
Group Stage Schedule:
June 4 – India vs Pakistan, Birmingham
June 7 – Pakistan vs South Africa, Birmingham
June 12 – Sri Lanka vs Pakistan, Cardiff
Champions Trophy history:
Pakistan are amongst the worst performers in the Champions Trophy. They have made an appearance in all seven previous editions, but have never managed to make it to the finals once.
Cricbuzz Prediction: Group-stage exit
Pakistan’s barren run in the Champions Trophy looks set to continue. They look set for an ouster at the group phase, and will look at a semi-final spot as a massive boost.