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Cricket news - Ready reckoner: Pakistan

Can the kings of unpredictability make bonfire of your predictions once again?

Why should you support them?

Pakistan have a brilliant record in multi-team tournaments held in England. And, their outings, on the British Isles, in the recent years have been noteworthy.

Pakistan enter the showpiece event with 10 consecutive losses on the bounce. But, they still can't be ruled out to be amongst the top four teams of the tournament. That's the enigma which makes supporting, or even mere following, Pakistan riveting.

They had rested as many as their seven mainstays for the Australia series, which they lost 0-5 in the UAE, and played England, to whom they lost 4-0, at their home without some of their vital players due to different diseases and injuries. Finally, all of their key players are now available.

Prior to the most recent ICC event, the 2017 Champions Trophy also in England, Pakistan, quite similar to now, wobbled in the one-day format. But, it took one defeat by India in their tournament opener to jolt them and turn them into world-beaters overnight. So, look out!

So what's their gameplan?

Before their departure for England, fans, media, and the team management were banking on their bowling unit, primarily the pace department, to cover up the batting meltdowns. But, after the five-match series against England the situation has reversed completely.

The plan now will be: get a solid foundation by the top-order batsmen, squeeze the flow of runs in the middle overs, and reverse the ball at the death.

Pakistan bank on their top-three batsmen to provide them solid foundations so the batsmen beneath them can play freely. Their opening pair, comprising Imam ul Haq and Fakhar Zaman, has been amongst the most successful ones with 1,260 runs at an average of 57.27 in the past two years. It is bettered by Dhawan-Rohit (2,091 runs at 44.48) and Bairstow-Roy (1,675 at 64.42). Their one-drop, Babar Azam, has also been in prime form, averaging 52.44 with a strike rate of 92.18. That his numbers read so well despite all of his 10 innings - divided equally against South Africa and England at their homes - against daunting bowling line-ups and in not so placid conditions is phenomenal.

The return of Shadab Khan and Wahab Riaz has provided the much-needed depth to their bowling department which was visible during their warm-up against Afghanistan last week. In the early phase of the middle-overs, Shadab, along with picking up the prized wicket of Hazratullah Zazai on the first ball, paired with Mohammad Hafeez to dry up the runs.

This allowed Imad Wasim to further squeeze the opposition and pick up a couple of wickets later. At the death, Riaz bowled scorching reverse-swinging yorkers, which not only kept the Afghan batsmen from getting bat on ball but also earned him two wickets. That they ended up on the losing side was largely due to the batting department's inability to bat for the whole 50 overs.

Which player should you get excited about?

Wahab Riaz

His inclusion promises to provide Pakistan's pace department that venom which they seem to have lost. Riaz's was a surprise inclusion in the side as he had been completely ruled out of the future plans by both the chief selector and the head coach since he was dropped from the ODI side a little less than two years ago. It was the poor run of the Pakistan pace department during the recently-concluded England series which brought about a change of mind.

During the warm-up against Afghanistan, the 33-year-old showed why he still might have relevance at the international level. When he was handed the ball at the death for a three-over spell, Riaz bowled reverse-swing yorkers at a searing pace - that also from the both sides of the stumps.

At a time when reverse swing has nearly vanished from ODI cricket, Riaz has the potential to excite not only the Pakistan fans but the cricket fraternity at large.

What further adds to the hype around him is his promise of an encore of that scintillating 'Shane Watson spell'. Riaz has been in decent form. He was the joint-highest wicket taker in the Pakistan Cup, Pakistan's premier 50-over tournament which was held in April, with 10 wickets in five matches an average of 20.70 with his economy reading 4.60. And during this year's PSL, he had 17 wickets, the third highest tally, in 13 matches with his economy 6.78.

Which of their fixtures should you not miss?

vs West Indies in Nottingham, May 31

Of course, you are not missing the one on June 16 and have already made plans for it. So, moving on...

Both Pakistan and West Indies have that X-factor. And, with the West Indies resurgence and Pakistan in their current form, this could be a fascinating contest.

What adds spice is the mismatch of their skill sets. West Indies boasts pacers who bowl at full throttle, hitting the hard lengths. Pakistan batsman, on the other hand, largely struggle against pace and bounce. West Indies batsmen may find it difficult to negate spin more than pace, and the best link currently in Pakistan's bowling unit is their spin department.

Also, the West Indian batsmen take an aggressive, hard-hitting approach, whereas the Pakistan ones still follow the method of stabilization.

How the two hit at each other's weak spots will be fascinating to watch.

What are their chances?

With Pakistan, you never know.

With the tournament lengthy and the teams getting as many as nine matches in the group-stage, Pakistan have ample time to get their plans on track. And once they crack the code, it becomes tough to stop them. Like it happened in the 1992 World Cup or during their successful T20 WC campaign, also in England, in 2009.

Squad

Sarfraz Ahmed (c&wk), Imam ul Haq, Fakhar Zaman, Babar Azam, Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik, Asif Ali, Haris Sohail, Imad Wasim, Mohammad Amir, Shadab Khan, Wahab Riaz, Hasan Ali, Shaheen Afridi, Mohammad Hasnain

Schedule

May 31: vs West Indies at Trent Bridge, Nottingham [D]

June 3: vs England at Trent Bridge, Nottingham [D]

June 7: vs Sri Lanka at County Ground, Bristol [D]

June 12: vs Australia at The Cooper Associates County Ground, Taunton [D]

June 16: vs India at Emirates Old Trafford, Manchester [D]

June 23: vs South Africa at Lord's, London [D]

June 26: vs New Zealand at Edgbaston, Birmingham [D]

June 29: vs Afghanistan at Headingly, Leeds [D]

July 05: vs Bangladesh at Lord's, London [D]

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