Champions Trophy Preview: Pakistan

Pakistan have struck a rich vein of form at the right time. They won their last series against the West Indies and chased down a highly improbable 340 in a warm-up match last weekend. But sadly the game will be shortly forgotten; it doesn’t even qualify as a List A match and yet it is one of Pakistan’s most remarkable victories in their history. At one point they required 100 from the last eight-and-a-half overs.

However, their recent streak shouldn’t overlook the fact that they’ve been outclassed by two of the Champions Trophy’s major contenders (England 4-1 and Australia 4-1) in the past year. Both series were a damning indictment of Pakistan’s white ball strategy. Indeed, it could be argued that the modern game has surpassed their current capability. For too long they have picked mercurial veterans, ignored the young talent and failed to adapt to an aggressive-from-the-off style of batting. They are looking like a side stuck in a similar situation to the England of old.

But that being said, they could be about to buck the trend. Eighteen-year-old leggie, Shadab Khan will be in the starting lineup alongside the highly promising batsman Babar Azam. They may even pick Fahim Ashraf after his warm-up heroics (more of that to come). And given that Pakistan start their campaign with a massive grudge match against India, in what will be a packed house at Edgbaston, they may well be inspired to come up big for the occasion against a side that so clearly outclasses them.


Form. Pakistan are currently on song. They beat the West Indies both home and away and chased down 340 in their warm-up game to beat Bangladesh. Surely this will give them plenty of confidence.

Shoaib Malik is currently Pakistan’s enforcer. His experience will prove vital down the stretch and his presence will give the younger guys some incentive to play aggressively and enjoy the occasion. He’s a statesman who will lead from the front. It’s beggar’s belief how he was overlooked as a skipper in white ball cricket – (I get that he’s old, but he’s a much better call than Sarfraz).


With regard to Pakistan’s credentials coming into the tournament, bowling is certainly the more promising side of their game. The pace attack could be dangerous, especially in English conditions. Junaid Khan and Mohammad Amir give Pakistan blistering speed, and Hasan Ali is a young prospect looking in good shape.

But the crux of their lineup has to be Shadab Khan. The young leggy can rip the ball square and has a deadly googly in his armoury. He will prove to be paramount in Pakistan’s bowling but, being as young as he is, the expectation may have a crippling effect. That being said, his inexperience didn’t stop him lighting up the PSL and making light work of the West Indies.


The lack of bombastic flair on their batting card is a fatal flaw for Pakistan. The senior heads have proven their worth but they aren’t threatening enough to take games away from stacked opposition sides. Looking at Pakistan’s group, (Sri Lanka, South Africa and India) one can’t seem to envisage much joy beyond Sri Lanka.

The selection is another point of weakness, in more than one aspect. First of all, the choice of skipper is predictably uninspired. While Sarfraz Ahmed has all the attacking intent that has been missing from Pakistan’s white ball game, sadly his bark is much worse than his bite.

Pakistan have picked someone who, despite displaying attributes akin to leadership, will simply not win games. Sure, Sarfraz has an unrivaled match presence and his white ball blueprint is in keeping with the modern game, but he isn’t a tactician and he isn’t a game changer. This is not to say that all captains must be, but with little else in the way of x-factors, your captain becomes a crucial piece of the puzzle. Sarfraz simply doesn’t have that extra gear that most over captains in the competition do.

The second problem for Pakistan in way of selection is the fact that their team for so long has glorified the has-been veterans that they’ve become stutteringly sheepish in blooding the promising youth.

23-year-old Fahim Ashraf scored a blistering 64 off 30 balls in the warm-up match against Bangladesh and went at under six an over during his six-over spell. He has never played an official international for Pakistan and it’s crazy to think that they may not find a place for him in the side. However this is Pakistan, so it’s hard not to be surprised. But a seam-bowling all-rounder is something they desperately need to recalibrate the balance of their side, so maybe, just maybe, they might be willing to roll the dice.

Meanwhile, Mohammad Hafeez is currently keeping an exciting Fakhar Zaman out of the side. And while we can agree that Pakistan isn’t going to drop a utility player who can score quick runs and chip in with wickets, Pakistan maybe need to focus on the future sooner rather than later.

Key Player


Mohammad Amir. It’s hard to look beyond the left arm quick. He’s the fantasy pick in English conditions. Swing, raw pace, control and a tricky angle for the right-hander to play against – he will be crucial in determining the amount of confidence that Pakistan play with.

Sure, his reemergence hasn’t been the headline-grabbing furor that we were all expecting, but he hasn’t lost his class. And to be fair, he has been rather unlucky: falling foul of Pakistan’s often lackadaisical catching. Expect him to perform.

Likely XI

  1. Ahmed Shehzad
  2. Azhar Ali (c)
  3. Babar Azam
  4. Mohammad Hafeez
  5. Shoaib Malik
  6. Sarfraz Ahmed (wk)
  7. Fahim Ashraf
  8. Imad Wasim
  9. Shadab Khan
  10. Mohammad Amir
  11. Junaid Khan

Can Pakistan win it?

Sure. They can win it. We are talking about the wooden spoon, right?

At the moment, it looks highly unlikely that Pakistan can hope to mount a serious challenge for a semi-final spot, never mind a place in the final. Their team simply doesn’t have the same kind of depth and firepower of India and South Africa. They probably will beat Sri Lanka but that will be as good as it gets for them.

While they may be turning a corner with the selections of some really promising youngsters, they won’t be fancied to come out on top against teams, stacked with players who’ve been lighting up the IPL. It is perhaps an unfair point, as the Pakistanis weren’t given the chance to perform in the competition, but it refers more to the fact that Pakistan’s upcoming adversaries have players that have continually come up big; the same cannot be said for Pakistan themselves.

With little margin for error, Pakistan’s tournament will probably be defined by their first game against India. They need to get off to a good start and the confidence from that will hopefully propel them to their potential. Unfortunately, such potential may not be enough to get them out of their group.

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