KARACHI: After putting up a gallant batting display in Saturday’s high-scoring second ODI in Southampton, Pakistan should draw inspiration from their effort in the remaining three matches against England, according to former opener Sadiq Mohammad.

In a candid interview on Monday, Sadiq described the Southampton fixture a good omen for Pakistan’s World Cup prospects and singled out Fakhar Zaman for special praise.

“It was a grand act of resilience exhibited by Pakistan after England had posted 373 upfront. The way Fakhar and Imam-ul-Haq went about their job in the initial stage [of the chase] was commendable because one can only go deep into mach game if the openers perform,” said Sadiq, the youngest of the famous five Mohammad cricket-playing siblings with four of them representing the country at the highest level.

“Generally I can’t find major chinks but I still believe Asif Ali should have batted until the very end. Had he done that I’m sure Pakistan would have been celebrating a famous victory instead of losing by just 12 runs. Fakhar was fabulous at the top and his hitting form at the right time would energize him for the World Cup.

“Fakhar is an impact player as we all saw during the ICC Champions Trophy final in 2017 and once he’s in on song, Pakistan usually do exceptionally well. He is someone who thrives on the big stage and if Fakhar can sustain himself in terms of being consistently good, that can inspire others as well. Saturday was a good example of this because Fakhar got a big hundred [138] and the rest played around him.

“That is exactly how you about in a run chase of this magnitude. But there are some grey areas where Pakistan must improve. Death overs whether in bowling or batting are major issues that both Sarfraz Ahmed and Mickey Arthur have to overcome.

“Asif threw away his wicket and like Umar Akmal in the past who more than often got when just a final push was needed. Finishers like [Jos] Buttler and [Eoin] Morgan have made this England team a very strong contender for the World Cup this year,’ Sadiq added. “Moreover, Arthur and [batting coach] Grant Flower should focus more on rotation of strike because singles and twos are as important as the big hits.”

Sadiq, who formed a famed opening partnership with Majid Khan between 1976 and 1979, further observed that Pakistan need to regroup as a bowling unit.

“Obviously the bowling is not that great in recent matches. The absence of Shadab Khan has put a lot of pressure on Sarfraz as captain because Yasir Shah is not someone you want to be playing in limited-overs matches,” Sadiq remarked. “Yasir is also struggling for form and rhythm at the moment and when one is low on confidence then you can’t expect the guy to be giving you room to control the game. One thing which I noticed that Yasir is releasing the ball too quickly in the air and therefore his spinning fingers hardly grip the ball to generate more turn. And if one cannot spin the ball appreciably then it becomes far easy for the batsmen to attack him on purpose.

“Imad Wasim, on the other hand, hardly turns the ball. And if the bowlers, either fast or slow, aren’t able to do a containment job by repeatedly delivering dot balls, the pressure is always on the fielding team.

“The fact of the matter is Pakistan must get the right balance in the bowling department. The news about Mohammad Amir [reportedly suffering from suspected chickenpox] and Shadab are not good, but others have pull up their socks.

“This series is not all about winning or losing. The major focus for Pakistan and England is get ample opportunities to head into the World Cup in a happy frame of mind. In Pakistan’s case, they would be well acclimatized as regards to playing conditions by the time the Word Cup starts,” Sadiq concluded.

Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2019