The 3-1 win against defending World T20 Champions on their home turf is resounding; let’s make no mistake about it. It has also helped Pakistan swap places with the Windies on the official ICC T20 rankings, with the visitors climbing up to fourth place. But more than the surge up the ranking tables, what is more crucial is the visible progress that Pakistan are making in their game.
Having said that, Pakistan still significantly lag behind top T20 sides in terms of batting wherewithal. It was because of the team’s dominant bowling display, spearheaded by the leg-spinning prodigy Shadab Khan, that the batsmen never had to play out of their comfort zone. It is that comfort zone of a 110-115 strike rate – for almost all of the batsmen – that needs to be revamped for Pakistan to become an all-round formidable T20 outfit, not reliant on its bowling unit to win matches all the time.
The way modern ODI cricket has evolved, the gap between the approaches for the 50-over and 20-over formats is also being bridged. It is no surprise, then, that Pakistan’s ODI squad has most of the same faces and the final 11 would not have any major changes.
ODI squad for the West Indies series
Sarfraz Ahmed (c/wk), Ahmed Shehzad, Asif Zakir, Babar Azam, Fahim Ashraf, Fakhar Zaman, Hasan Ali, Imad Wasim, Junaid Khan, Kamran Akmal (wk), Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Asghar, Mohammad Hafeez, Shadab Khan, Shoaib Malik, Wahab Riaz
The two notable changes are Mohammed Amir and Junaid Khan. The former, who was officially rested for the T20 series with Chief Selector Inzamam-ul-Haq citing fatigue, will in all likelihood be the only inclusion in the starting 11 outside of those who played the T20 series.
Hafeez, who only played the first T20, might get a slot as well. His only chance is to replace Fakhar Zaman, and if the move goes ahead it would be regressive, despite Zaman’s struggles in translating his PSL form in international cricket.
The likely starting 11 for the first ODI at Providence on Friday would be:
Ahmed Shehzad, Kamran Akmal, Babar Azam, Fakhar Zaman, Shoaib Malik, Sarfraz Ahmed, Imad Wasim, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Amir, Wahab Riaz, Hasan Ali
10 of the 11 played the final two T20s in Trinidad.
Again, whilst the bowling needs to continue where it left off from the T20 series, the onus is on the batting to do more.
Kamran Akmal, Ahmed Shehzad and Babar Azam might all have impressed – even if inconsistently – in their own ways during the T20 series, but none of these is an archetypal limited-overs batsman. Azam, the youngest and arguably the most gifted of the trio, can eventually evolve into one, but as things stand, his batting lacks the urgency needed in the modern game. His run-a-ball innings won’t cut it in contests when the batting of the opponents fires up.
Both Akmal and Shehzad deserve their call back to the ODIs as well, especially with Sharjeel Khan suspended. But unlike the impression that the left-hander gave before the spot-fixing scandal, neither of these radiates the vibe that they’d be a part of the limited-overs setup for the prolonged future, considering their inconsistency.
Akmal, however, the most aggressive of the current top order can cement his place in the near future – with the Champions Trophy coming – with a strong display in the three ODIs. He’s also the likelier to be dropped compared to Shehzad should he fail, considering the baggage of the past and his ordinary fielding skills.
Malik and Sarfraz do add dynamism to the middle order, but neither is a big-hitter that a successful modern-day outfit needs in the middle and lower-middle order. In fact, Pakistan are completely devoid of any power-hitters in the current lineup and that is a major concern hindering the team’s progress.
The ODI series would be Sarfraz’ first as the captain. Let’s see what direction he takes after a couple of below par years under Azhar Ali. Sarfraz has already proven himself to be a formidable T20 captain in the PSL and internationally. One would hope he could replicate that in what should be his toughest leadership assignment to date.