KARACHI: White ball formats have become increasingly tough to compete in for a Pakistan team mired in an ancient approach amid a dearth of fearless, attacking and innovative batsmen.
Barring one — Sri Lanka’s 398 against Kenya in 1996 — the top 20 team totals in ODI history have all been recorded in the last decade.
In October 1996, Pakistan amassed 371 against Sri Lanka in Nairobi which for nearly three years remained the second best team score in an ODI.
Since 400 started getting breached, the Men in Green have plummeted so low that now they don’t even have a single entry in the top 20 ODI totals!
Six out of the top eight teams — excluding Pakistan and Bangladesh — have posted scores in excess of 400.
As Azhar Ali’s charges head into the ODI series against the power packed New Zealand outfit they must realise that the methods of past are not going to help surmount arguably the most exciting limited overs outfit in present day cricket.
In home conditions New Zealand led by the audacious Martin Guptill decimated Sri Lanka before ruthlessly exposing the shortcomings of Shahid Afridi’s T20 side in the last two games of the series.
Guptill is not alone in his ways, Colin Munro, Corey Anderson, Luke Ronchi and Graeme Elliot are all destructive players who simply don’t care a tad about the reputation of their opponents.
Fortunately for Pakistan, the man responsible for the beyond recognition turn in fortunes of the Black Caps, Brendon McCullum — currently undisposed due to injury — is not expected to feature in the first two games of the series, can Azhar Ali make it count?
Pakistan go in to the ODI series on the back of the Hamilton and Wellington drubbings where they resembled a bunch of clueless club cricketers who were left numb by Kane Willamson and his men.
Last year, the Black Caps pulverised Pakistan in Napier days before the World Cup. The hosts hammered 369 with centuries for Ross Taylor and Willamson, the visitors lost by 119 runs.
A similar backlash cannot be put of the equation given the complexities of Pakistan’s recent ODI failures.
Even the usually reliable bowling outfit is under intense pressure and crumbled in a heap against the Jos Butler onslaught in the decisive ODI against England at Dubai last November.
On batting strips medium-pacers like Anwar Ali have suffered at the hands of big-hitters, even the pacier left-arm duo of Wahab Riaz and Mohammad Irfan has failed to rein in the runs.
Mohammad Amir who had a tough reintroduction to top flight cricket in the T20s — one wicket in three games — must up the ante in the ODIs.
In the absence of the banned Yasir Shah the spin options look incredibly short on experience and class with the left-armers Imad Wasim and Zafar Gohar leading the tweakers club with a grand total of six ODI appearances between them — Imad alone has played five.
Often adversity has brought the best out of the Men in Green. The current infuriatingly prolonged ‘rebuilding phase’ has left the team reeling at number eight in the ODI rankings. If they can collectively conjure some magic and cast a spell of mesmerizing brilliance than a series victory cannot be ruled out yet.
One though strongly feels that the onus of a turnaround is with the batting department. Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Hafeez, Azhar Ali, Shoaib Malik, Mohammad Rizwan, Babar Azam and Sarfraz Ahmed are all match winners on their day.
But at least three of them will need to throw caution to the wind and play with uncluttered minds. The odds are heavily stacked against them and this reason alone suggests that a Pakistan cricket team can’t be ruled out.