THE year of the One-day International World Cup could not have gotten off to a better start for Pakistan — a victory against New Zealand, in which Pakistan hardly broke sweat in a run chase with their batters in total control. But after the first of the three ODIs, things spiralled out of control. A batting collapse in the face of spin saw the tourists level the series by winning the second ODI. New Zealand clinched the series after Glenn Phillips’ explosive knock undid Pakistan in the decider. With the World Cup in India this year, the 2-1 series reverse has raised questions about the side, which continues to struggle in ODIs and Tests. Victory in the first match had raised hopes — Pakistan could have gone to the top of ODI rankings with a series sweep, but the results that followed show that Babar Azam’s men have work to do ahead of the World Cup — although, in its defence, the team continues to be without pace spearhead Shaheen Shah Afridi and ace leg-spinner and vice-captain Shadab Khan.
Shadab’s absence meant that recalled batter Shan Masood, who had last played an ODI in 2019, was elevated to vice-captaincy by the interim set-up led by Najam Sethi that is managing PCB’s affairs — a baffling decision considering that T20 vice-captain Rizwan was in the ODI squad. Shan didn’t make the playing XI in the opening two games; when he got his chance in the third, the opener fell without scoring. Still, Pakistan posted 280 thanks to Fakhar Zaman’s century. Phillips, though, snatched the game away from Pakistan, intensifying scrutiny of star batter Babar’s all-format captaincy. The PCB is to rule on that in March. A change in the team’s leadership, though, could result in a showdown between PCB and the players, most of whom are loyal to Babar. With the World Cup so near, Pakistan must ask themselves why they let matches slip from winning positions.
Published in Dawn, January 15th, 2023