There are two different ways of looking at the 4-1 ODI series defeat against England. And as soon as Pakistan were out of the series – three matches in – we have all been looking at it one way: the obvious way.
Winning a consolation match against a second string England side to avoid a whitewash, coupled with the distinction of becoming the bowling attack to have conceded the most runs in a single innings, means that we’d all be clutching at straws to extract any optimism. But let’s do the clutching, shall we?
As discussed in this space last week, the one major reason why Pakistan fared so atrociously against England is because the team is simply not good enough. And when we say this, we’re mostly referring to the batting line up, seemingly incapable of scoring runs beyond the 300-run mark, which is below par on most grounds in 2016.
Even so, Pakistan are returning home after their highest ever ODI chase outside Asia – sixth highest overall. The 304 against England in the final (dead) rubber was also the highest chase by Pakistan against any side that is not Bangladesh or India. It was also the first time in over 8 years that Pakistan managed to chase over 300. Incidentally, like all other teams, they have been asked to chase scores in excess of 300 the most frequently in this period.
Meanwhile, the bowling that we often like to tout as the ‘best in the world’, currently holds the record for conceding the most runs in a single ODI innings – 444. And it was long coming.
Pakistani bowling has neither deteriorated overnight, nor is there a need to hit the panic button. What is needed are calm heads willing to accept that unlike the Test side, Pakistani bowlers haven’t kept pace with modern-day requirements either.
Yes, Mohammad Amir is still world class, but he has not exactly been conquering all before him since his return. He has had his moments – some truly top moments like that spell against India in the Asia Cup – but he hasn’t been as successful leading the attack, as he was as the young prodigy. Of course, staying six years (a quarter of your lifetime) away from the game doesn’t help.
Meanwhile, three of our top pacers are all excruciatingly injury prone – Mohammed Irfan, Sohail Khan and Junaid Khan. And Wahab Riaz is still cashing in on that Shane Watson spell, isn’t he? Again no coincidence that – despite the occasional meaningful spell – it was Wahab who became the first Pakistani bowler to concede over 100 runs in a spell.
While Pakistan could barely find a batsman for large parts of the series, they suddenly have a skeleton of the team that can be built on. Sharjeel Khan looks set to open the innings for Pakistan for years to come, with Sarfraz Ahmed establishing himself in the middle-order and Imad Wasim as the calm finisher that Pakistan have never had. Imad’s bowling performance has now genuinely made him look good to become the all-rounder that Pakistan haven’t had for a while as well.
Then there are the likes of Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan that could be a part of the limited-overs set up as well, but need immense hard work to cut it at the international level.
This leaves Azhar Ali and Shoaib Malik, who are both surplus to requirement.
The board is yet to make a decision on Azhar Ali, but it’s a no-brainer. Azhar has no place in the ODI side. Anyone who has to play out of his comfort zone to score runs at a strike rate of over 80 in 2016 won’t get into any of the international ODI sides. Hence, his captaincy credentials are irrelevant. His role will be huge in carrying the Test team forward after Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan retire, and that is what he should be asked to focus on.
Some decisions are straightforward, others not quite. Half the positions in the ODI squad are up for grabs
Malik’s contribution in the final ODI shouldn’t be used to give him another stint. He has barely ever scored any runs outside Asia, and needed a slow Cardiff wicket to come up with his only performance of the tour.
Looking ahead, some decisions are straightforward, others not quite. Sarfraz should lead both limited-overs sides, and the batting order should be constructed around him. Sharjeel should work on his fitness and fielding, while Imad Wasim should now consider himself as the foremost all-rounder in Pakistan and should hence look to perform accordingly as well.
None of the bowlers should be considered a shoo-in for the ODI side, and Amir needs to add significantly more consistency to his game in the coming tours.
All in all, half the positions in the ODI squad are up for grabs. But the England tour still has given Pakistan players that look safe bets to participate in the 2017 Champions Trophy and 2019 World Cup in England.