LAHORE: While completely dismissing criticism over his poor form ahead of the all-important World Cup, veteran Pakistan all-rounder Shoaib Malik on Saturday said there were no out-and-out favourites for the mega event being staged in England and Wales.
“All teams at the World Cup are strong and there will be no fluke and no team is favourite. Everyone has to struggle and under English conditions rainy weather may create problems for any team on a given day,” veteran all-rounder Shoaib Malik, whose selection in the World Cup squad has raised many questions mainly due to his poor performance of late with bat and ball, said while talking to reporters during a mixed zone interaction here on Saturday.
The Malik, who holds a modest overall batting average of 35.12 in 282 One-day Internationals and has had a average batting record during the last year or so (21 matches, 506 runs, average 33.73), did not look happy with both media and former cricketers, for criticising him on what the player himself termed “non-technical reasons”.
Fakhar, Imam, Imad, Shadab, Shaheen, Hasnain upbeat ahead of mega event
“I hope the critics will not carry out postpartum of the players’ [performances] during the World Cup on non-technical reasons. I have no complaint against anchors but against [some] former cricketers, who just focus on dropping or bringing a player on the basis of [their] liking and disliking,”said Malik, who as off-spinner has lost his utility of late as he bowled only one over in his last 11 ODI appearances since November 2018.
He continued, “I don’t follow Pakistani media, so what it says about me I don’t care. The big thing is that it is my last World Cup and I am in the team and I will try my best to give my best for the team as I always played for my team, not for myself.”
When asked his batting strike-rate was on the lower side, Malik had no relevant response.
“On one hand, people consider me the team’s senior most player while on the other they also let me down but it makes no difference to me. I don’t like to say but we are living in a society where negativity has its role, based on liking and disliking,” the 37-year-old said without elaborating.
“In 99 per cent matches of my career I lost my wicket while trying to hit big shots and when I staged a comeback in 2015 my strike rate was 100-plus which matched that of the most aggressive players like A.B. de Villiers and David Warner,” Malik continued.
“I am also hearing that I am fond of captaincy and Sarfraz Ahmed may not be available [for captaincy]. These are just conspiracy theories. Sarfraz is our skipper and he will remain so and under his command we will win the [World] Cup,” he maintained.
Speaking on the occasion, Pakistan opener Fakhar Zaman said he would try to repeat the magnificent performance he delivered during the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy which Sarfraz and company won by outplaying arch-rivals India in the final at The Oval.
“My target is to give my best to help the team win the World Cup and I will again try to play a big knock against India [in Manchester on June 16],” the left-hander, who made headlines by smashing a superb century in the Champions Trophy decider, said.
“Our head coach Mickey Arthur gave me a chance in the 2018 Test series in England just to give me enough practice to experience the English conditions before the World Cup,” added Fakhar who holds a fine batting average of 53.40 in 31 ODIs.
“As my style is [comparatively] aggressive in contrast to [fellow opener] Imam-ul-Haq, we both understand each other well,” Fakhar underlined.
However, Fakhar added, he had also been playing alongside Pakistan’s newly-emerged opener Abid Ali for Habib Bank team. Therefore, the southpaw added, it would not be difficult for him to develop good understanding in case they (Fakhar and Abid) had to bat together in the World Cup.
Meanwhile, opener Imam-ul-Haq, who has maintained a fine batting average (54.90) in 24 ODIs so far, said that he had eyed playing the 2019 World Cup when he was part of Pakistan’s U-19 team for which he thanked God.
“I have been playing for Pakistan for the last one and half years and now I feel my responsibility is big and we have to take pressure to complete the responsibility,” Imam, the nephew of chief selector and batting maestro Inzamam-ul-Haq, stated.
“All teams of the World Cup look balanced, therefore no one can be declared as favourites and you will see competitive matches.”
All-rounder Imad Wasim, who has been running against time to regain full physical fitness owing to knee-related problems, said he would try his best to regain fitness.
“I am thankful to the chief selector for giving me favour to recover from my knee problem, and selected me in the [World Cup] team. I will try my best to regain my fitness to give my 100 per cent for the team,” Imad said.
“Yes my performance with the bat has improved but with the ball it is demanding more,” said Imad, who in the last 11 ODIs as batsman averaged 93.66 but at the same time claimed just five wickets at a poor 91.60.
However, he was not ready to make batting his first priority, leaving the career as a bowler.
Imad has played 41 ODIs scoring 711 runs averages 47.40 and taking 33 wickets at averages 42.51. However, his strike rate of 105.22 still making him a useful man for the team.
“My role in the team is with both new and old ball and as a batsman the team also demands from me so I take these all as blessings as these make me a useful player in the team in different ways,” he said.
The all-rounder promised that people would see a new aggression in every member of the Pakistan squad during the World Cup, adding, “I desire when we bowl we all take wickets and when we bat we all score runs”.
In his comments, leg-spinner Shadab Khan said his aim at the World Cup would be to claim a couple of wickets in the middle of the innings while containing the run-rate, which he said would help Pakistan put maximum pressure on rival batsmen in death overs.
While denying that his performance had been on decline since Pakistan’s last tour to Zimbabwe, the 20-year-old spinner admitted it was not at par in South Africa.
“But all is past now, the World Cup is in front of us for which the team is preparing well and my personal target is to earn the player of the tournament award and to win the World Cup for the team. Furthermore, I want to take the prized wicket of Indian captain Virat Kohli,” Shadab, who has grabbed 47 wickets in 34 ODIs at 27.74, said.
The 19-year-old pacer Shaheen Shah Afridi, who is in impressive form, said his last tour of South Africa helped him a lot to learn finer points as bowler and hoped that same kind of pitches would be in England.
The left-armer said though flat pitches were expected in England, his main target was to get maximum swing to take wickets. In a brief but fine record, Shaheen has seized 19 wickets in 10 ODIs averaging 19.36.
Speedster Mohammad Hasnain, 19, a surprise selection for the World Cup, said he was not feeling any pressure of the mega event.
“I am not under any pressure of the World Cup, and will try my level best to come up to the expectations of the nation and selectors,” said Hasnain, who rose to prominence during his first appearance in the Pakistan Super League earlier this year, many a times clocking 150kph and above and in the process claiming 12 wickets in seven league matches.
Right-armer Hasnain, however, said he would not only depend on speed but also on line and length at the mega event.
Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2019