Different ball game

After a hard-fought Test series, Pakistan would need to change gear for the limited-overs format. K Shahid previews the Pakistan-England ODI series

Different ball game
With Pakistan practically at 74/3 on Day 3, at the time of writing, the third Test is balanced on a proverbial knife-edge, mirroring the entire Test series. By the time you read this, either England would have drawn level or Pakistan would have won the series 2-0. Neither score line can take away the fact that the matches were decided by the thinnest of margins. If the first Test had managed to squeeze in seven more overs, and the second Test had seven less, England could have entered the third Test at Sharjah at the right end of the 1-0 score line.

Ahead of the four-match ODI series, both squads would see overhauls, as the limited-overs specialists join the teams. Pakistan’s major shuffle would be in the batting line-up with Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan making way and the likes of Umar Akmal, Mohammad Rizwan and Ahmed Shehzad up top, getting into the starting 11. Imad Wasim would be a massive loss, after being ruled out of the ODI series with a hand injury. Imad had been gradually cementing his place as a genuine all-rounder, which Pakistan have needed following Mohammed Hafeez’s bowling ban.

Despite Hafeez’s consistent displays in the Tests, his place in the limited-overs teams is less certain following the ban. He hasn’t batted with similar consistency in ODIs, and would in all probability be replaced by Ahmed Shehzad as the opener along with Azhar Ali.

The three batsmen who would definitely make the transition from the Test 11 to the ODI starting line-up are Azhar, Shoaib Malik and Sarfraz Ahmed. Between the three, they contributed one meaningful innings and one retirement announcement in the three Tests – both courtesy Malik. His double century in the first Test was, in a way, an extraordinary sending off for a player who hasn’t quite made his mark in the longest format. More relevant to current proceedings, however, is the fact that he didn’t score many runs following that double ton. Even so, Malik along with Azhar and Sarfraz would be hoping to continue their decent ODI batting form this year in the England series.

As has been the case of late, Asad Shafiq – who batted exceptionally during the Test series – should also be called up for the ODI series. He might start as well, despite the fact that he hasn’t done much in the recent chances that were given to him in Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe. More often than not he struggles shifting gears in accordance with ODI cricket, something that plagued the limited-overs career of Younis Khan as well.

With or without Asad Shafiq, Pakistan would need to build on recent ODI successes by doing the one thing they’ve been doing exceptionally well under Azhar Ali: taking a more aggressive initiative with the bat. As has been the case recently, Azhar providing impetus up top along with Shoaib Malik’s experience in the middle-order would be crucial to build the platform on which the attacking lower-order can capitalise.

On the bowling front, despite not being a regular, there is a strong case for Yasir Shah’s inclusion in the starting 11. He continued his impressive displays in Test cricket in the recent series as well, and a specialist, wicket-taking leg-spinner can be a lucrative commodity in modern ODI cricket. Case in point: Imran Tahir.

The rest of the bowling line-up should select itself, with Mohammed Irfan and Anwar Ali joining the team, and Wahab Riaz and Rahat Ali being retained from the Test squad.

England are coming off a 3-2 ODI series defeat against Australia, which left question marks over their ODI side, amidst the Ashes euphoria. England’s disastrous World Cup campaign this year, which saw them knocked out at the group stages, means that rebuilding is at the top of the priority list ahead of the Champions Trophy in 2017 and World Cup in 2019 – both hosted by England.

For Pakistan the task is straightforward. They face a struggling ODI side, in conditions heavily skewed towards the Asian side, who have won their last three ODI series. Anything less than a convincing series win would be a major disappointment for Azhar Ali’s team, which has gone from strength to strength since the post-World Cup drubbing in Bangladesh.

Even so, England would have a lot to prove as well, and wouldn’t be burdened by too many expectations. That’s when they can be dangerous. A new look English side undergoing a rebuilding process could be a tough challenge. But one that Azhar Ali’s Pakistan side would be expected to convincingly overcome.