One can never write off Pakistan in a global event and that will be the case again when Babar Azam and Co head into the ODI World Cup in India at the back of an inconsistent run.
Not so long ago, Pakistan were looking like a well-rounded unit but their Asia Cup campaign has exposed the chinks in their armour.
Playing in India will give the players the chance to become national heroes overnight. Pakistan open their tournament campaign against the Netherlands here on October 6.
Here is the SWOT analysis of the most unpredictable team in world cricket:
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Despite the injury to Naseem Shah, Pakistan’s pace attack remains a potent force. The ball tends to swings in the powerplay at most venues in India and Shaheen would be aiming to exploit that including against India in Ahmedabad on October 14.
His new ball partner in Naseem’s absence remains undecided but the choice is likely to be between the seriously quick Haris Rauf and the seasoned Hasan Ali, who is making a comeback.
The batting relies heavily on Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan and they both looked in sublime touch in the opening warm-up against New Zealand here on Friday. It could be a legacy defining campaign for Babar who would aim to lead from the front.
The absence of Naseem has definitely created a window of opportunity for the opposition batters. Shaheen and Naseem are relentless with the new ball and rivals have to deal with only one half of the destructive duo.
Rauf, who usually comes in to bowl as first change, opened the bowling against New Zealand but did not look as effective despite his express pace. There will be added pressure on Hasan who is likely to be targeted by rival teams in all phase of the game considering his medium pace.
The opening combination of Imam Ul Haq and Fakhar Zaman also don’t inspire a lot of confidence. Big match batter Zaman needs to overcome his inconsistency while Imam, who has a 50 plus average in 66 ODIs, needs to bat a higher strike rate than his current 82.18.
The form of spinners Shadab Khan and Mohammad Nawaz is also a concern.
The tournament presents a massive opportunity to the likes of Saud Shakeel, Iftikhar Ahmed and Salman Agha. However, not all three are expected to feature in the playing eleven at the same time.
Shakeel, who has proved his mettle in Test cricket averaging a staggering 87.50 in seven games, is yet to make the same impact in the 50-over format. He looked good against New Zealand in the warm-up and will be hoping that more chances comes his way.
Middle-order batters Iftikhar and Agha will be expected to chip in with part-time off-spin over the course of the long tournament.
As vice-captain Shadab Khan pointed in the media interaction on Sunday, the last thing Pakistan need is another injured squad member. Naseem’s loss has disturbed the balance of the bowling attack and they can’t ill-afford another key player on the sidelines.
Pakistan have the tendency to self-implode and they will need to be wary of that.