Luck and circumstance touch different people at different times in many different ways. In the lead-up to the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup in India, Pakistan has got the short end of this stick.
First, its very participation in the event came under a cloud. Once that shifted, there was the lack of clarity over the ‘safe’ venues for the team. Then came the disastrous performance at the preparatory Asia Cup where it finished last in the Super Four group.
A tournament-ending shoulder injury to premier fast bowler Naseem Shah was the next body blow. The latest is the delay in procuring visas, which means the Babar Azam-led squad will arrive in India only on Wednesday evening, with under 48 hours left for the first warm-up match against New Zealand in Hyderabad.
For Pakistan however, the lush green cricket field has often been a safe space. The side was ranked No.1 in ODIs — now No.2 – until last week. It finished a worthy runner-up to England in the last year’s Men’s T20 World Cup and won the Champions Trophy the last time it was held in 2017. These are the memories the former World champion would like to carry forward.
In the Netherlands — notwithstanding the competitive three-match ODI series the two outfits played in August 2022 — Pakistan will get the soft start that’s helpful to ease into the tournament. The batting will be led by the likes of Babar, Mohammad Rizwan and Imam-ul-Haq. The form of Fakhar Zaman will however be a worry, for the southpaw hasn’t scored a half-century in his last 10 innings.
In an ideal world, Pakistan’s bowling would be its trump card. But the injury to Naseem has severely dented that advantage. Hasan Ali, who last played an ODI in June 2022, has been named as Naseem’s replacement, a choice influenced by his experience of having played in big-ticket competitions.
In focus will be the wicket-taking abilities of tweakers Shadab Khan — also the vice-captain — and Mohammad Nawaz. Expected to shoulder the responsibility in the crucial middle-overs, leggie Shadab had a forgettable Asia Cup, with just two wickets from the four outings against India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
Left-arm spinner Nawaz has four scalps from his last eight ODIs. This perhaps explains the inclusion of leg-spinner Usama Mir, who was not part of the Asia Cup.
But in the past, Pakistan has shown that mitigating factors do not always suffocate the side. The World Cup is another opportunity to prove that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Ace in the Pack
Shaheen Afridi: Speed thrills. No one embodies this better than Shaheen Afridi. The left-arm quick is among the most lethal bowlers around, and recently left even Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma doubting their techniques. The 23-year-old, who is the bowling lead of Pakistan, however has to shoulder added responsibility in the absence of his pace partner Naseem Shah.
The squad: Babar Azam (capt.), Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Abdullah Shafique, Mohammad Rizwan, Saud Shakeel, Iftikhar Ahmed, Agha Salman, Shadab Khan, Usama Mir, Mohammad Nawaz, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Haris Rauf, Mohammad Wasim Jr. and Hasan Ali.