Bring champions to the fore

After the Test series whitewash against Sri Lanka, Pakistan need to rebound quickly. K Shahid previews the ODI series

Bring champions to the fore
The last match that Pakistan played culminated in the side’s first ever defeat in a full Test series in the UAE. The last ODI that Pakistan played saw the side bag their first ever Champions Trophy crown.

With the last outing in the green kit being the return of world class international cricket to Pakistan in the three-match T20 series in Lahore last month, Pakistan’s fortunes in the limited and longest versions of cricket are heading in opposite directions.

While the struggles post #MisYou were always going to be there, being whitewashed by a struggling Sri Lankan side in the fortress that UAE has been was a veritable disaster. But the good thing for Pakistan is that they can bank on the ODI champions, and bring them to the front, to swiftly put the Test series behind them till the next 5-day assignment.

The first of the five-match ODI series against Sri Lanka would be played in Dubai today. Pakistan announced an almost identical 15-man squad to the Champions Trophy winning lineup with Chief Selector Inzamam-ul-Haq’s nephew Inam-ul-Haq coming in for Azhar Ali – who is being rested – as the only change.

Following injury to Mohammed Amir in the Dubai Test, Usman Khan has been summoned as his replacement.

Sarfraz Ahmed

This is what the final squad looks like ahead of the first ODI:

Ahmed Shehzad, Fakhar Zaman, Mohammad Hafeez, Babar Azam, Shoaib Malik, Sarfraz Ahmed (c &wk), Imad Wasim, Shadab Khan, Faheem Ashraf, Hasan Ali, Usman Khan, Ruman Raees, Junaid Khan, Haris Sohail, Imam-ul-Haq

Most of the starting 11 picks itself after the Champions Trophy win. Ahmed Shehzad might be slotted in the lineup in place of Azhar Ali, after the former’s impressive batting in the final T20 against the World XI. Ruman Raees and Junaid Khan would slug it out to replace Amir in the first XI.

Fortunately for Pakistan, it’s a fresh squad, most of whom wouldn’t have played in the recently concluded Test series. Barring Babar Azam and Sarfraz Ahmed no one in the starting lineup would have played both Tests, and so it is these two – especially the former – who would have to do most of the unlearning.

Babar Azam could only manage 39 runs in a Test series that has been billed as Pakistan’s life after #MisYou. And so it was a missed opportunity for him to step forward and present his case, after putting up strong numbers in the limited overs.

Fakhar Zaman

Sarfraz, meanwhile, had the perfect start to his ODI captaincy with the Champions Trophy win, and has even taken the T20 side to the second place in ICC rankings, after leading Quetta Gladiators to back-to-back PSL finals. He would now know firsthand that Tests are a completely different kettle of fish, and should hence get back to his limited-overs groove and leave the much needed work on the longest format for later.

Sri Lanka are arguably a better ODI side than they are at Tests.But perhaps the same can now be said of Pakistan as well.

While Fakhar Zaman had a quiet Independence Cup, it is important that his aggression – which was the catalyst of Pakistan’s Champions Trophy win – comes to the fore from the get go in the ODI series. Ahmed Shehzad needs to be a lot more consistent to keep the opening slot away from Azhar Ali, who might be preferred in the 50-over format, once he regains full fitness.

The newfound Hafeez in the middle order along with Shoaib Malik should bring in the experience needed to get over the past and focus on the present. Similarly, Imad Wasim – with both bat and ball – and Shadab Khan would be injection of much needed dynamism.

Whatever the bowling combination, it should be in safe hands. But Hasan Ali is fast emerging as Pakistan’s fast-bowling spearhead in the limited-overs format.

The first ODI is going to be critical in this series that Pakistan need to win, not only to rebound from the Tests, but also to keep building the momentum from the Champions Trophy win en route to the World Cup 2018.