THE Pakistan cricket team’s World Cup preparations have run into difficulties, thanks to the 0-4 England drubbing in the five-match ODI series that concluded at Headingley on Sunday. Not among the leading ODI sides, the Pakistanis were always the underdogs in the series. However, with the kind of talent in their ranks and the three-week training in England, they were tipped to give their hosts a run for their money. That did not happen. The sketchy show put up by Sarfraz Ahmed and his men could at best be described as unprofessional. They appeared to be in disarray — uncertain, hesitant and weighed down by one defeat after another. With the World Cup now less than 10 days away, it is clear that the Pakistanis have much work to do, and many knots to untie. Several of those knots pertain to the usual suspects — injuries, poor form and a lack of self-belief. They seem to be caught in their own bubble where old failings such as substandard bowling and atrocious fielding have been exposed yet again. Not surprisingly, the media and fans have been unsparing. So much so that the landmark Champions Trophy win in 2017 is now dubbed a ‘fluke’.
Of course, there are lessons to be learnt. The tormenting of bowlers, the shoddy fielding and incongruity among players ought to be dissected for improved results at the World Cup. Having said that, what has helped the team retain some of its competitive spirit is the welcome turnaround in batting. For decades, batting had been the Achilles heel of Pakistan cricket, but the batsmen have surprised everyone by mustering totals in excess of 340 in three consecutive games against England bowling, a feat hitherto unaccomplished by the national team. The top order — Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq and Babar Azam — hit hundreds in the ODI series while the middle order — Asif Ali, Haris Sohail, Mohammad Hafeez and Sarfraz — provided heartening support. Hopefully, the return of a fully fit Mohammad Amir and Shadab Khan will give Pakistan the confidence to relaunch the World Cup campaign.
Published in Dawn, May 21st, 2019