The ICC Champions Trophy, which is a 50-over mini-World Cup, is all set to begin in a couple of weeks in England. According to the ICC rules and regulations, only top eight teams participate in the tournament and this year, Pakistan, edged the former champions West Indies, to become the eighth team to qualify for the eighth edition of the Champions Trophy. Pakistan have not been to the best of their form in the last 10 months. They could not match the standards of the higher-ranked sides like Australia and England in the last 10 months and had only triumphed over No. 9 ranked West Indies. Even Bangladesh is above Pakistan in the ICC ODI Team rankings.
Pakistan has been placed in Group B and will kick off the tournament with a high-intensity match against arch-rivals, India before they take on South Africa and Sri Lanka. With the presence of defending champions India and World No.1 Proteas, Pakistan’s journey in Group B will be no cake walk. They will have to produce their best cricket in order to go past these gigantic teams. Meanwhile, where the Lankans are concerned, Pakistan beat them in their previous encounter. The last time they played in 50-overs was in 2015 when Pakistan had toured the island nation for a three-ODI series. Beating Sri Lanka in their den in any format is indeed a remarkable feat.
Sarfraz must lead from front
Sarfraz Ahmed, Pakistan’s new One day skipper has a vast experience in the game having played 70 ODIs in his career so far, but the concern lies in his rawness as an international captain. Prior to the tournament, Sarfraz will have only four ODIs and eight T20Is in his account as Pakistan’s captain. That is clearly not sufficient, considering how crucial the challenge is for the team. He might take inspiration from former Indian captain, MS Dhoni, who made his captaincy debut in the World T20 2007 and India had won the inaugural edition.
Sarfraz has not delivered with the bat ever since he replaced Azhar Ali as Pakistan’s ODI captain. Having played four ODIs, he has only clinched 70 runs, where 26 was his highest score. However, his maiden tour of England in 2016 was a memorable one in terms of his personal record. If Sarfraz looks back at his numbers in England, he will definitely gain confidence and that will, in turn, do well for his side. Having batted in five innings in England last year, he accumulated 300 runs with 105 being his highest score there. He scored the century at the ‘Mecca of Cricket,’ Lord’s and became the first Pakistani cricketer to touch triple digits at Lord’s in the green jersey.
The skipper has been given a team which is well balanced with youngsters and senior players. The players such as Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Mallik, Umar Akmal and Ahmed Shehzad together heap up to 671 ODIs and it goes without saying that the quartet will have to step up and show the right path to their younger teammates. However, the worry is that while Shehzad has not played an ODI England yet, the other three have failed to leave a mark on the English soils. Meanwhile, there are players like Fahim Ashraf, who has been picked for the Champions Trophy without playing a single international game. Then there is a Fakhar Zaman who has an experience of just three T20Is on the higher level.
Pakistan and Sarfraz will have hopes with the 22-year-old Babar Azam. The young batsman sealed the top-order spot for himself in the Pakistan line-up after he had smashed three back-to-back ODI centuries against the West Indies in 2016. He was the part of Pakistan’s squad that toured England last year for Test and five-ODI series. He batted in all the five innings and scored 122 runs. When the whole team had struggled, this young lad had at least put up some fight. Moreover, his overall figures of 1,322 runs at a whopping average of 55.08 in 26 matches, speaks volumes for a batsman of his age.
A strong bowling attack…
Pakistan’s former captain, Azhar Ali after a poor string of performances, was not only omitted as Pakistan’s captain but also had lost a place in the side. He was dropped prior to Pakistan’s tour of West Indies last month and was given three months to revive his form for the Champions Trophy. Fortunate for Pakistan, Ali managed to stick to what he was asked to do and now he is back into the side with a massive task to strengthen the team in the middle.
England pitches being bouncy and fast, they are fast bowling friendly. With the pacers like Mohammad Amir, Junaid Khan, Wahab Riaz and young Hasan Ali, Pakistan have one of the best pace attack going into the tournament. Amir, undoubtedly being the spearhead will have a huge responsibility of delivering in England. Having played a total of 32 ODIs, he has picked 50 wickets already. His association with England is always remembered because of the spot-fixing scandal. He will aim to change that and make sure England gets associated with him for the reason of his cricket.
Cardiff being one of the venues in the Champions Trophy and that’s where Hasan Ali will come into the picture. His best bowling figures of 4 for 60 came at the venue last year. He is a young medium pacer with simple action and several variations and that’s what gives him an edge against the other bowlers. Moreover, the teams such as India and South Africa haven’t played against the 23-year-old and it will be interesting to watch if he can trick them in Champions Trophy.
Pakistan cricket has been struggling off late, especially in the shorter format. They even slipped in the ICC rankings and now are even placed below Bangladesh. This team, which is a blend of a variety of players, has thrown some hope of doing well in the ICC event. They begin their Champions Trophy campaign on June 4 against India at Birmingham.