Pakistan Favored By The Spin-trio, But Meet Strike Rate Worries > Cricket News, cricinfo, mobilecric, cricbuzz, livescore and more

Cricket news - Pakistan buoyed by spin trio but encounter strike-rate woes

Babar takes as many as 110 balls, on average, to score a century. It is the fourth slowest for a batsman with at least four hundreds since April 2015

Their recent whitewash by England was brushed under the carpet by saying they were up against the most daunting side on its home soil. When they were being battered by Australia in a five-match series, which would subsequently end in their whitewash in 15 months, at the UAE, it was argued that they were without their mainstays. In one of the post-match presentation ceremonies, their stand-in captain even went on to say that they weren't even vying for a win.

When Pakistan take on the West Indies in their World Cup opener on the second day of the tournament, they will be a defeat away from recording an embarrassing record: the country's longest losing streak (in terms of matches). They currently have 10 defeats on bounce which is on par with Pakistan's longest-ever losing streak, which stretched from October 1987 till March 1988.

Ahead of cricket's showpiece event, the two warm-ups come with a crucial opportunity for Pakistan to change the course of the tide. And, considering their past record, the first one, which was against Afghanistan, fit the purpose perfectly. After all, they were never been beaten by them. Even during a miserable Asia Cup last year, one of their only two wins, out of five matches, was against Afghanistan.

But, somehow that changed for Pakistan.

There were signs of that occurance from the very beginning of the match. Despite every batsman batting - except for Asif Ali, who is not in England - in the warm-up, Pakistan were rolled out with 2.1 overs spare. And, considering that this tournament is expected to be a run-fest, their final scored of 262 didn't read well.

Pakistan had both of their openers back in the pavilion by the middle of the 12th over. That even the opening partnership went into the ninth over was due to the abysmal lapses in the field from Afghanistan. Imam Ul Haq and Fakhar Zaman had as many as four reprieves as the fielders put down easy chances and Mohammad Shahzad missed a stumping.

Nevertheless, by the end of Mohammad Nabi's second over, the 12th of the innings, Pakistan were reeling at 65 for 3 as the offie rattled the stumps twice to cut short Zaman and Haris Sohail's outing in a span of four balls. And when Mohammad Hafeez looked to counter-attack, his attempt of hitting Rashid Khan over the long-off fence only underscored Pakistan's power-hitting woes. The veteran allrounder, charging down the wicket, mistimed Rashid's worst delivery of the match, a full-toss, to be caught at the boundary. That very inability would come under-scanner again when their most senior player, Shoaib Malik, and Babar Azam, their best batsman, failed to middle their slogs, despite spending as many as 17.4 overs at the crease, when the team required a surge in the scoring rate.

The failure of this batting line-up to cross the fence as regularly as per the modern-day stands is well documented. But, that their batsmen, who faced most of the balls, ended their innings with below-par strike rates in conditions which largely favoured the batsmen put serious questions on the team's batting plans.

Babar, 112 off 108, has a role of an anchor in the line-up and is tasked by the team management to bat deep, something the batsman and his coach have reiterated. On Friday, he returned to the pavilion in the 46th over, which goes perfectly as per his role. But, that his strike rate read only 103.70 despite batting out the entire second powerplay, when only four men are allowed outside of the inner ring, neither correspond with the batsmen of his stature nor with the modern-day standards. This very question was also put forward when he scored 115 at a rate of just 102.68 in the fourth England ODI at Nottingham despite being in as early as the middle of the fourth over.

A closer look at the numbers suggest that Babar takes as many as 110 balls, on average, to score a century. It is the fourth slowest for a batsman with at least four hundreds since April 2015 after Tamim Iqbal (121), Shai Hope (118) & Rahmat Shah (114). Couple this data point with his remark that he need not add power-hitting to his arsenal as he sits at the top of the ICC T20I rankings for batsmen, and one is bound to wonder whether Babar should be persisted with in the role he currently holds.

During the Nottingham one-dayer, the broadcaster put forward the teams' bowling strike-rates for the first ten overs since the start of this year. It revealed Pakistan, with 86.5, to be the second worst, behind Bangladesh. Their gap from the next best side, England, was of a staggering 20.5 deliveries.

In their bid to improve the team's ability to penetrate in the first powerplay, Pakistan named Mohammad Amir in the final World Cup squad. Though the left-armer has only five wickets in the past two years, PCB termed him a 'big-match bowler' and talked up his ability to keep a check on the flow of runs. But, to ensure grip over the game, making early inroads is pertinent. And, its failure can put a side way behind its opposition - something Pakistan endured on Friday.

Though Amir bowled tight lengths and kept the Afghan openers from scoring, Shaheen Afridi, at the other end, went for plenty. Taking nothing away from Hazratullah Zazai, who butchered Shaheen in his second over by hitting him for five fours, things, perhaps, could have been different for Shaheen if he had an in-form senior who could build pressure on the opposition at the other end..

Also, with Shaheen low on confidence because of a mediocre run in the England ODIs and Amir's inability to pick wickets, Pakistan might seem underwhelming at the start, with these two being the only new-ball specialists in the side.

But, there were silver linings too, despite a defeat against a lowly-ranked Afghanistan. The returns of Shadab Khan and Wahab Riaz provided much-needed depth to Pakistan bowling department which was lacking against Australia and England.

The leggie, playing his first international match since January 30, choked the Afghanistan batsmen when he was introduced in the 11th over. His four-over spell allowed only 16 runs, seven of which came off a single ball, and he removed Hazratullah on the very first delivery. That there was variation, in both spin and pace, must've been heartening for Pakistan after watching Yasir Shah bowl in Shadab's absence.

From the other end, the off-spin of Hafeez afforded the Afghan batsmen just 12 runs in four overs. And, when the two bowled in tandem - from the 11th over to the 16th - Pakistan gave away only 13 runs. With Imad Wasim returning 2 for 29 in 10 overs, which stretched from over number 25 to 43, the coming together of the spin trio augurs well for Sarfraz Ahmed.

Riaz, returning for a three-over spell at death, showed that despite remaining away from ODI cricket for around two years, his ability to hit the yorker length with the ball reversing at a searing pace hasn't dimmed. The 48th over in particular underscored that when he dismantled the Gulbadin Naib's stumps and trapped Najibullah Zadran's in front of stumps with an incisive yorker.

Though this defeat adds to an already burgeoning burden, Pakistan, being the team they are, might just find a way out. After their Champions Trophy triumph in 2017, Sarfraz revealed that it was the honest appraisal of the team's performance in an open discussion after their thrashing by India in the group-match which lifted the morale of the camp. Two weeks later, Pakistan defeated the same opposition to be crowned the champions.

So, there is hope. After all, with Pakistan, you just never know.

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