Will Pakistan spring another surprise - Pakistan SWOT Analysis - Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, Threat
Unpredictably is one word that comes to mind as soon as Pakistan cricket is talked about. While we have witnessed the darker side of this unpredictability in last year's Asia Cup and the 2015 World Cup, the brighter side to it was on display in the 2017 Champions Trophy when Pakistan stunned one and all by beating the top teams and ultimately clinching the title.
Hence, in the last big multi-nation tournament that was played in the UK, it was actually Pakistan who emerged as winners and would have a good idea of the conditions.
In Pakistan's preliminary 15-member World Cup squad, the biggest talking point is the exclusion of seasoned left-arm pacer Mohammad Amir. Usman Shinwari has also been sidelined for a young 18-year-old quick bowler Mohammed Hasnain. Hasnain has raw pace and has been selected on the pretext of providing an X-factor. Shaheen Afridi, Hasan Ali, and Junaid Khan are the other selected pacers.
Abid Ali has been included as one of the three openers alongside Imam-ul-Haq and Fakhar Zaman.
The other names to miss out are wicketkeeper-batsman Mohammed Rizwan and Shan Masood. Rizwan, who came in the team in place of Sarfaraz Ahmed after he was banned for five matches for racial comments against Andile Phehlukwayo, scored two centuries in the five-match series against Australia last month.
Shan Masood was also in fine form but had to make way for the more experienced Shoaib Malik who has not been in good touch but his experience makes him a must-pick in the middle order along with captain Sarfaraz Ahmed and Haris Sohail.
Mohammad Amir and Asif Ali are their two reserve players.
Pakistan have selected three quality all-rounders in their 15-member World Cup squad. Apart from being good at their skill, the variety that they bring to the table immensely strengthens the team.
Imad Wasim has made notable contributions for Pakistan lower down the orders by scoring quickfire runs in the recently concluded ODI series against Australia. Although as a bowler he would need to work on his wicket-taking ability, he still remains very economical and is capable of choking the run flow.
Shadab Khan, on the other hand, is a spin bowling all-rounder and provides the team with a wrist spin option which is the way to go now-a-days. Shadab also bowls a lot of googlies which sometimes skid off the surface and are difficult to read.
Faheem Ashraf is is a pace bowling all-rounder and can be a handful in conditions which provide some assistance. He also has good enough pace to trouble the batsmen.
What is common among all is that they are proper bowling all-rounders which is not true with most other teams who have batting all-rounders. Having bowling all-rounders who can bat a bit in the lower order gives a lot of balance to the side.
The likes of Imam-ul-Haq, Sarfaraz Ahmed, Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez are known more for their proper batting rather than big-hitting. In England, where the pitches are expected to be flat, 3000-320 scores would be just about par and Pakistan lack the firepower to score big runs on a consistent basis.
They had the option of Asif Ali but they did not pick him for more experience and solidity which is understandable but at the same time, they look bereft of players apart from Imad Wasim who are capable of scoring 30 runs from 10 balls, which at the end proves to be the difference between a match-winning total and a par score.
Shoaib Malik has been around the international circuit for the longest time and has already announced that 2019 World Cup would probably be his last ODI assignment. He has also expressed his wish to continue playing the shortest format till the 2020 T20 World Cup.
Malik would want to end his career, which has been filled with so many ups and downs, on a high note. If he can do something out of the ordinary, all the blemishes of his career would be overlooked and he would be remembered for his World Cup performances.
Junaid Khan has been another bowler who, despite all his talent, has not been able to become a regular in the Pakistan ODI setup. He is one of the greatest exponents of swing bowling and being a left-arm quick gives him the advantage of being a lesser known entity. If Junaid hits the ground running from the first match, he has the ability to make a real impact because of his wicket-taking potential.
The likes of Imad Wasim, Babar Azam, Shadab Khan and Mohammed Hasnain are not the fittest guys and there have been reports that they are not fully fit. Apart from giving an opportunity to the youngsters, their fitness was one of the reasons why several of the regulars in the Pakistan ODI side were not included in the ODI series against Australia. Many of them have not played a whole lot of competitive cricket after the Pakistan Super League.
Mohammad Hafeez was even ruled out of the PSL due to a finger injury and is still recovering from that. His inclusion in the squad is subject to his fitness. In a lengthy tournament like the World Cup, if Pakistan start struggling with their fitness, it may prove to be a major deterrent to their success.
Squad: Sarfraz Ahmed (c), Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Abid Ali, Babar Azam, Shoaib Malik, Mohammad Hafeez (subject to fitness), Shadab Khan, Imad Wasim, Haris Sohail, Hasan Ali, Faheem Ashraf, Shaheen Afridi, Junaid Khan, Mohammad Hasnain