Familiar comfort of another series win masks Pakistan’s unresolved ODI issues
If you’re buying a ticket to a Rod Stewart or Elton John concert, you’re unlikely to be desperate to listen to their latest album. If JK Rowling has been booked for conversation at your local bookstore, chances are those crammed there will pepper it with questions about The occasional vacation are quite far away. And if you met Brazil’s Ronaldo on a morning jog, you’d probably want him to talk about his career rather than do some on-site goalkeeping.
And if in 2022 you’re lining up in the heat – as the Multan crowd have done many times this week – for an ODI performance in Pakistan, it’s not because of hope. tantalizing that maybe, just maybe, this could be the day the middle order comes to life. Or to find out the answer to the question: who really is the best new-ball opening bowler to partner? Shaheen Shah Afridi? Crowds lined up to enter and see a Babar Azam masterclass, a long high-level partnership that breaks the backs of the opposition – probably alongside Imam-ul-Haq – and a few wickets of new ball for Shaheen, followed by that already iconic celebration.
There is no false advertising here. That’s what Pakistan is selling, and that’s what Pakistan is delivering in this format right now. The PCB might as well start offering refunds whenever Babar misses a big score and almost never loses any money. Imam’s numbers are only going up, and that includes improved hit rates against both pace and spin. Shaheen’s first spell prowess is a self-fulfilling prophecy at this point. And occasionally you might see something that counts as a bonus, like a Khushdil Shah cameo or a mohamed nawaz masterclass, as happened in this series against the West Indies. If you’re really lucky, you might get a ticket on the two out of ten days when everything is in place. Fakhar Zamanstrike zone.
Let’s be real here, though; most of the things you see from pakistan in odi cricket besides those cast guarantees are not a harbinger of a problem solved, a box ticked, a platform laid for a build future. It’s just an ode to the inherently boring truth that international cricketers will, once in a while, have a good game, and when that happens can sometimes be hit or miss. That’s why Khushdil was able to hammer that West Indian attack on a Wednesday night in Multan but, faced with similar bowling, unable to do the same on Friday night. It may also be why Nawaz went for 61 in ten overs in the Wednesday night heat and took 4 for 19 under twinkling stars on a wet Friday night. That is why, perhaps, on Sunday, Fakhar could break a glittering century, or Shadab Khan get a quick lower order 40 on 19 balls.
But it’s impossible to say without guesswork which of these is more likely, and that’s effectively where Pakistan’s ODI cricket currently stands. It’s of course better for this series to be played than not, although for a very long time it felt like no one really wanted to play it if the ODI Super League didn’t force them to. But from the hosts’ point of view, anyway, it tells us almost nothing that was not already known to even the most casual observers, just like the Australian series, and probably like any series that will follow this one . Pakistan are almost exactly where they were when they played their first game after the ODI World Cup in 2019, except the facets that were already strong are now exceptionally strong, at the best level in the world.
The tempting arc to draw from here would be for Nawaz to become an integral part of Pakistan’s ODI planning and preparation, but if that were to happen it would be quite a dramatic change from his involvement until now. now. The versatile player has featured in just 18 of Pakistan’s 84 ODIs since his debut, has taken over a wicket just six times and scored over 20 runs just three times. Khushdil, meanwhile, is just six games into his ODI career, and while his first ODI exploits should shield him from too much premature criticism for now, it only takes a handful of indifferent performances for the knives are sharpened again.
There’s a lot of talk about Pakistan’s ODI stick depth, epitomized by Shaheen’s lower-order striking improvement that led to a change in momentum at the death on Friday, but everyone’s reliability from the #4 down is a tricky one for a team. who is preparing for a World Cup trophy tilt in 16 months. The middle and lower order stumbles are well documented but always bear repeating. In this World Cup cycle, 66% of Pakistan’s points have been scored by the top three, by far the highest among the 20 teams to have played ODs in this period. New Zealand are far behind, needing their top three for 53% of their runs. What has been shown in this series exacerbates rather than ameliorates this problem.
The fast bowling unit in the format isn’t quite settled either. Shaheen may be a lock, but Hasan Ali, Haris Raouf, Mohammad Hasnain, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Wasim or even Usman Shinwari have taken the new ball from one end to the other since the last World Cup. Hasan and Haris, the ones who have done it the most times other than Shaheen, have the worst strike rates and the worst save rates when tasked with this responsibility. There is no obvious solution right now, and time is running out to find one.
But the crowds that packed Multan might have other things on their minds, as they might. Elton John and Rod Stewart continue to pack stadiums, playing their hits, while Harry Potter fans will keep JK Rowling in demand wherever she’s booked for a talk.
And Pakistan continues to seal series victory after series victory; it’s their fifth in six series since the 2019 World Cup. Babar and Imam are still scoring buckets of runs, and Shaheen is hitting with such consistency you could set your watch. It may still be up to Pakistan to try and work out the issues, but for punters watching this side these days, Pakistan still delivers exactly what it promises. No less, but perhaps worryingly, no more.