KARACHI : Pakistan cricket team is called mercurial and obviously the reasons behind that label are pretty obvious. So much is the unpredictability of the team that no pundit has the ability to predict which Pakistan will turn up on a specific day.
But that pattern was more or less eliminated during Misbahul Haq era, as Pakistan became lost its Midas touch in the 50-over format.
From World Cup 2011 semi-finalists to falling to the seventh position when Misbah hung his boots in the ODIs, Pakistan cricket looked short of the pace needed to move with the fast changing game.
But even his departure didn’t change the team’s fortunes, largely thanks to the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), which opted for a ‘safe’ option of Azhar Ali to lead the side, but the decision backfired.
Finally, when it became a now-or-never situation for the team as a spot in the 2019 World Cup looked increasingly in danger, PCB moved to appoint wicketkeeper-batsman Sarfraz Ahmed as the captain of ODIs — a step which put Pakistan on the path of an exceptional turn around.
Out of 18 matches played during 2017, the team managed to bag 12 victories, which was a great improvement as compared to 2016 where they could manage only five wins out of the 11 matches they played.
In the batting department, there was a visible improvement as the team’s batting average increased from 34.68 in 2016 to 38.63 in 2017, which was also the fourth best in the world behind India (47.51), South Africa (43.93) and England (43.1). However, the increase in the average came at the cost of a slower strike rate which decreased from 93.54 to 84.18.
Young Babar Azam, who had a miserable year in Test cricket, was the best performer in 50-over cricket with 872 runs with an average in excess of 67 including four centuries and two half-centuries.
Out of all batsmen who played in more than five innings at least, opener Ahmed Shehzad had the worst year as he only managed to score 95 runs in six innings at an average of 15.83 and a strike rate of less than 59.
However, stealing the limelight for Pakistan were the bowlers, who excelled in all areas.
The team collectively picked 136 wickets in 18 matches, nearly double of what they achieved in 2016 —71 in 11 matches.
The team’s strike rate and average in the bowling department improved significantly as it came down to 36.6 and 30.77 in 2017 from 40.4 and 36.97 in 2016, respectively.
The team’s economy rate saw an improvement as well, which reduced to just 5.03 from 5.48 in 2016.
The improvement in bowling performances was recognised across the globe as well, since Pakistan’s strike rate was the fourth best and the average was the second best in the world in 2017, whereas in 2016, team’s strike rate was third worst and economy was the worst out of all the top teams.
Right-arm pacer Hasan Ali’s meteoric rise in 2017 was unmatched as the 23-year-old finished as the leading wicket taker in the world in the ODIs in 2017, with 45 scalps from just 18 matches at an astonishing strike rate of 20.3 and average of 17.03.
Out of all the bowlers who played at least five ODIs, all-rounder Mohammad Hafeez had the worst outing in the green jersey as he only managed to account for seven batsmen in 17 innings at an average of 74.28 and a strike rate of 105.
Defining moments for Pakistan ODI cricket in 2017
ODI victory in Australia after 12 years: Pakistan team’s record in Australia is as bad as there could ever be, and therefore, when the team performs Down Under, it becomes a major headline. January 15, 2017 was one of those days when Pakistan against all odds stunned the mighty Kangaroos in the second ODI of the five-match series. The star of the show in bowling were pacers Mohammad Amir and Junaid Khan, while in batting it was the stand-in captain Mohammad Hafeez and veteran all-rounder Shoaib Malik who made sure that the team crossed the line without any problem.
Series win in West Indies: Just before the West Indies tour, which became a do-or-die contest for the spot in the 2019 World Cup, PCB handed over the captaincy of the ODI team to Karachi-born Sarfraz Ahmed and the team responded in a splendid manner. After a horrendous start with the Windies winning the first game by four wickets, team Pakistan made a comeback and responded in a befitting manner in the second match, courtesy a sublime century from Babar Azam. In the series decider, the team was in trouble big time, but this time it was veteran Shoaib Malik who scored a stunning century to seal the series for the visitors.
Amir’s redemption: Pakistan pacer Mohammad Amir’s name rings a lot of good and bad memories, but his phoenix-like rise from the ashes since his comeback sets him apart from many. After serving his ban for being one part of the 2010 spot-fixing scandal, Amir returned to the national team amid criticism, and found it hard to maintain the form at which he was cast out from international cricket. But then came June 18, 2017, when Amir completed his redemption. It was the final of the ICC Champions Trophy and in his first spell, he showed why he is still considered one of the best in the world by dismissing the nearly indomitable top-order of arch-rivals India, which included the dismissal of Indian batting star Virat Kohli on two consecutive balls — first dropped by Azhar Ali, second caught brilliantly by Shadab Khan.
Champions Trophy victory: ICC Champions Trophy was the marquee cricketing event in 2017 and many believed it was the most ruthless tournament in the sport as well. Pakistan travelled to England as the lowest-ranked side and a 124-run thrashing in the first match against India made sure everyone wrote-off Sarfraz Ahmed-led unit. But that’s when Pakistan shifted into the highest gear. The mercurial and unpredictable Pakistan downed South Africa, narrowly beat Sri Lanka, stunned tournament-favourites England and last, but not the least, humiliate India to seal what was the best moment in country’s sporting history since 2009.
Usman Shinwari’s fiery fifer: There was a time when Pakistan would boast the left-arm pace of Wasim Akran, and there was a flurry of right-arm fast-bowlers, but that is not the case anymore. On October 23, 2017, young Usman Khan Shinwari created a new record for the team, which is quite unique in a lot of aspects. In the final ODI of the five-match series against Sri Lanka, the 23-year-old decimated the Islanders’ batting order and claimed five wickets in just 21 deliveries, the third fastest in the history of 50-over cricket and fastest by a Pakistani bowler. However, to his bad luck, the left-arm pacer suffered a stress fracture which ruled him out for at least six months.
Sri Lanka whitewash: After a victorious Champions Trophy campaign, Pakistan proved they were a re-born team in the shorter formats, and that’s what they showed in their only ODI series after humbling India in the final — a 5-0 triumph against Upul Tharanga’s Sri Lanka. With five thumping victories by 83 runs, 32 runs, seven wickets, seven wickets and nine wickets, the Men in Green completed their sixth whitewash in ODI cricket and finished the year 2017 in style. Pacer Hasan Ali was nominated player of the series after taking 14 wickets at an impressive average of just 11.28 and strike rate of 18.4