ICC World Cup squad profile: Babar & Co tipped to go deep into the tournament
The likes of the classy captain, Rizwan & Shakeel stand out in a defeat in first of the warm-ups
The curiosity value around Pakistan, ever since they set foot in India after seven years since the T20 World Cup in 2016, has been enormous. It was a pity that they had to play their first warm-up game against New Zealand behind closed doors, but they looked battle-ready despite a five-wicket defeat on Friday.
The absence of bilateral cricketing ties between India and Pakistan meant as many as 13 players of the current squad, including skipper Babar Azam, are visiting the country for the first time. An injury prevented Babar from making the 2016 trip, but this could also heighten the X-factor of the team in conditions similar across the border.
Despite failing to make it to the final of Asia Cup after a shock loss to Sri Lanka, Pakistan had been playing some of their most consistent white ball cricket in recent years. They were the No.1 ranked ODI team last month for the first time since the International Cricket Council (ICC) introduced the rankings in 2005 and showed five wins in eight matches against the Kiwis earlier this year before Friday.
Riding on a 114-run third wicket partnership between Babar (80 off 84 deliveries) and his deputy Mohammed Rizwan (103 off 84), Pakistan ran up an imposing total of 345 for five on a flat batting track. The top five of Pakistan wear a settled look in the experienced Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul Haq, Babar, Rizwan and the explosive Saud Shaqeel (75 off 53 deliveries).
The pace attack looks potent enough with Shaheen Afridi and Haris Rauf leading the pack, but Hasan Ali looked wayward in his return to the squad (in place of an injured Naseem Shah) in the warm-up game where he was clobbered for 66 runs off 7.4 overs. A lot will ride on leg spinning allrounder Shadab Khan (who didn’t play against the Kiwis) and left-arm spinner Mohammed Nawaz on wickets which could see 300-plus totals frequently over the next one and-a-half months.
The performance graph of the team has prompted most pundits to include Pakistan among the potential semi-finalists. They did the last time in 2011 where they were edged out by eventual champions India in a cracker of a semi-final. Always known as a rhythm team, they have an easy opener against qualifiers Netherlands on October 6, followed by an underwhelming Sri Lanka on October 10 and then India four days later.
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A solid start and they can raise the vision of a 1992 encore, the only time they won the trophy under the legendary Imran Khan. The current bunch may lack the larger-than-life persona of the past like a Shahid Afridi or the two Ws, but pack quite a punch on their way.
All they have to guard against is the unpredictable nature of their performance – which had often been a bane for them in the past!
Pakistan squad: Babar Azam (c), Shadab Khan, Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Abdullah Shafique, Mohammad Rizwan, Saud Shakeel, Iftikhar Ahmed, Salman Ali Agha, Mohammad Nawaz, Usama Mir, Haris Rauf, Hasan Ali, Shaheen Afridi, Mohammad Wasim.
Best performance: Winners: 1992; Semi-finalists: 1979, 1983, 1987 & 2011.