KARACHI: Over the past five years, Pakistan’s evolution in limited-overs cricket and especially in ODIs has seen its fair share of peaks and troughs.
From the embarrassment of losing an ODI series against Bangladesh in 2015 to reaching the high of winning the Champions Trophy in 2017, the Men in Green’s resurgence in the shorter formats of the game has been commendable to say the least.
Towards the end of the former skipper Misbahul Haq’s tenure and Azhar Ali’s stint as the ODI captain of the national side, the team found itself in an unwanted situation with lack of young and exciting talent coming through the ranks, while they also lacked the ability to play in accordance with the requirements of modern day cricket.
But that has changed since wicketkeeper-batsman Sarfraz Ahmed took over the reins from Azhar in February 2017.
Under Sarfraz, the only poor result that Pakistan produced was a 5-0 whitewash in New Zealand against the home side earlier this year.
Apart from that, the Men in Green registered series wins against West Indies, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe but the most important victory came in 2017 when the team beat India to bag the ICC Champions Trophy for the first-time ever.
What is admirable about this Pakistan side is that it closely follows the mould of successful limited-overs teams in the world.
The current relies on young talent, adequate number of experienced players and a coaching staff which has appropriately applied the correct philosophy both on and off the field.
With Fakhar Zaman and Imamul Haq performing well at the top of the order, Pakistan have come a long way in resolving their perennial opening woes.
The consistent batting displays of Babar Azam has provided a much-needed stability to the middle-order and has also filled the void left by the departure of Misbahul Haq and Younus Khan to some extent.
Veteran all-rounder Shoaib Malik has been in a great form since making another comeback in the ODI side in 2015. He provides finishing touches with clean and brisk hitting lower down the order, and now he will have all-rounders Faheem Ashraf and Asif Ali to support him and ensure Pakistan’s batting efforts bear fruit.
Pakistan are also well-equipped in the bowling department which is in line with their rich bowling history.
The fast-bowling armoury has a nice blend of pace and swing with Hasan Ali leading the pack along with Mohammad Amir and Usman Khan Shinwari.
Ali’s swing and seam combined with changes of pace and aided by a clever head on his shoulders has quickly rocketed him towards becoming one of the best bowlers in the limited-overs cricket.
Amir has been inconsistent with the ball since his return to international cricket but his experience can come in handy during pressure situations, while Shinwari has also shown positive progress since being inducted into the side.
Pakistan can also call upon the services of experienced Junaid Khan and young Shaheen Shah Afridi in case the usual prospects fail to deliver.
In the spin bowling department, leg-spinner Shadab Khan will be the key to Pakistan’s success as a lot will rely on how he performs with the ball — especially during the crucial middle overs phase.
He has been one of the greatest finds for Pakistan in the past year or so in every aspects of the game which makes him such a valuable asset for the side.
The kind of form and team combination that Pakistan currently possesses, they might prove to be an unstoppable force at the Asia Cup.
Vs India- Matches 129, won 73, Lost 52
Vs Hong Kong- Matches 2, won 2, Lost 0
Asia Cup- Matches 40, won 24, Lost 15
Asia Cup Achievements
First appearance in 1984
Two time champions
Last title won in 2012
Fakhar Zaman (Batsman)
Opener Fakhar Zaman’s quick rise in international cricket has come as breath of fresh air for Pakistan who have been found wanting in the opening department for the past numerous years.
Zaman might not be technically proficient but has a style of batting that is effective and can put opposing bowlers on the back foot.
The left-handed batsman scored a swash-buckling century in his only outing against India during the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy Final to lay the platform for a memorable victory and he will be looking to replicate his performance in the group stage match once again.
Zaman has been the highest run-scorer for the team with 1,065 runs in ODI cricket since making his debut against South Africa during the ICC Champions Trophy in 2017.
He is also currently the highest run-scorer for Pakistan in 2018 so far with 665 runs in just nine matches at a staggering average of 133.
The 28-year-old became the fastest player in the 50-over format’s history to score 1000 runs after securing the record in 18 innings, which was three fewer than West Indian legend Viv Richards — who held the record for 38 years.
Shoaib Malik (all-rounder)
Veteran all-rounder Shoaib Malik provides Pakistan with great value lower down the order while he can also build an innings if the top order falters.
Although it is not usually needed but the he can also be asked to roll his arm over for a few overs in spin friendly conditions in the UAE.
Malik was out of the ODI side since the 2013 Champions Trophy but he made his way back into the side during the Zimbabwe tour of Pakistan in May 2015.
Since his comeback, the 36-year-old has amassed 1,525 runs at an average of 47.65 and a strike-rate of 98.13 — making him the third-highest run-getter for Pakistan during that span of time.
Over the years, Malik has developed a liking for India and its bowlers as four out of his nine ODI centuries have come against them while two of those hundreds have come during the Asia Cup.
In 12 Asia Cup matches Malik has played over the course of his career, the Multan Sultans captain has scored 575 runs at an average of 63.88 with three centuries to his credit.
Due to his experience and ongoing purple patch in the limited overs cricket, Malik will have to shoulder a lot of responsibility and carry the team forward in the tournament.
Hasan Ali (Bowler)
Hasan Ali has adopted the role of being the leader of the pack despite his young age since making his debut in ODIs against Ireland in August 2016.
Ali has been the highest wicket-taker for Pakistan in the past year with 26 scalps in 12 matches at an average of just 18 and a frugal economy rate of 4.76.
The impact Ali has made through his bowling can be judged from the fact that he has picked up 46 wickets at an average of 13.73 and an economy rate of 4.04 in matches Pakistan have won, while in matches the Men in Green lost, his average and economy rate drastically deteriorates to 35.81 and 6.80 with only 22 wickets to his credit.
He has a phenomenal record in the UAE as well where he claimed 17 wickets in eight matches at an average of 14.17.
In October last year, Ali became the number-one ranked bowler in the world while he currently sits on number three spot in the International Cricket Council (ICC) ODI bowlers rankings.
His haul of 13 wickets in five games was instrumental in Pakistan’s triumphant run in the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy and a similar performance will be expected of him come the Asia Cup.