After the famed ‘cornered Tigers’ of Imran Khan set the world stage ablaze in 1992, Pakistan has been the perennial underachievers of the cricket World Cup, reaching the final on just one other occasion (1999).
In the lead up to this World Cup, though, the men in green had a good 2017, lifting the Champions Trophy in England and in the process beating arch-rivals India comprehensively. England and Wales will be the setting for the CWC, and Pakistan will look to shrug off recent poor form and make an impact.
In the past, Pakistan has been predominantly known for their pace battery but this time it will have to be the batting that stands up. The form of the top three – Fakhar Zaman, Imam Ul-Haq and Babar Azam – has been stupendous since the Champions Trophy, and it is this trio that could make the difference.
Since 2017, Fakhar and Imam have posted nine 50-plus totals, behind only England’s Jonny Bairstow-Jason Roy combination, which boasts of 11.
Statistics show that when Pakistan’s openers have posted a half-century or more, the team’s success percentage increases immensely.
Completing a top-heavy line-up is the 24-year-old Azam, whose rise in the last few years has been meteoric. Azam has been a vital cog in his side’s victories, averaging a lot more in victories.
Since the last World Cup in 2015, Azam is among the top-five highest scoring batsmen playing in the pivotal number three position.
In case the top-order fails, it will be up to the veteran pair of Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez, in the company of skipper Sarfaraz Ahmed, to resurrect the innings. All three have been struggling of late, with only occasional flashes of brilliances.
Malik averages a meagre 14.8 in England, second only to an underwhelming 10.4 in New Zealand. And Hafeez has done no better, scoring 590 runs from 23 matches at an average of 29.5 in the Old Blighty.
Sarfraz’s men boast two talented spin options from whom big things were expected, but neither has created the impact of their Test counterpart Yasir Shah. Shadab Khan and Imad Wasim have been the most-featured spin options for Pakistan since 2017, and while they have been able to put the brakes on the flow of runs, they haven’t been as successful at taking wickets.
A baffling choice made by the selectors in the lead up to the Cup is the inclusion of pacers Wahab Riaz and Mohammad Aamer in the final 15-member squad. Chief selector Inzamam Ul-Haq likely made the call based on their experience, but their numbers don’t justify the picks.
Riaz has shown that he is a big match player and in the last two World Cups he has played, has dished out some impressive performances including a fiery spell in 2015 where he had Shane Watson looking like a cat on a hot tin roof. That said, the left-arm speedster has had an underwhelming outing in England.
Aamer’s statistics too are nothing to write home about as, in terms of average, he has the worst numbers since 2018 (minimum 100 overs bowled), picking just five wickets in 15 matches at 92.6.
The spark in Pakistan’s bowling has definitely been Hasan Ali, who will spearhead the attack. Despite averaging 74 in six games this year, Hasan’s numbers in England are something he can take heart from. In 12 matches he has scalped 23 wickets and averaged just a shade above 27 (27.1).
Pakistan come into the global competition on the back of 10 losses in 11 games with the solitary game washed out – not the kind of numbers calculated to fill their supporters with hope. Against that, they are – to perpetuate a cliché – the most unpredictable side in world cricket and if they get out of bed the right side, who knows?