Pakistan cricket team ended the year on a high note in the limited overs format. The team followed up the magical champions trophy victory with a dominant performance against Sri Lanka. The men in green currently hold a 9 match winning streak in the ODI format. Pakistan is now all set to face a strong New Zealand team. The Blackcaps have all the momentum in the world after thrashing West Indies in both T20 and ODI formats.
Considering the recent track record of both sides, we can expect a cracking series. However, the real talking point within the Pakistan cricketing circle is whether or not the team will be able to sustain its momentum. With the series against New Zealand on the horizon, let us take a look at the major concerns and positives for the men in green.
A lot has been said about Pakistan’s unpredictable Champions trophy victory. Since then, however, the team hasn’t faced any real challenges. Sure, there was the series against Sri Lanka but a combination of home conditions and weak Sri Lankan side meant that the team was never tested. In contrast, the New Zealand team will pose a greater challenge to the young Pakistani side. Traditionally, Pakistan has struggled in New Zealand conditions. The team has won only 2 ODI series out of 11 on New Zealand soil.
Aside from the past records, another problem that the men in green face is the injury and fitness issues of various players. Usman Shinwari had been the breakout star of the series against Sri Lanka. The left arm fast bowler displayed tremendous ability to swing the ball at will and could have been destructive with the new ball in New Zealand conditions if it wasn’t for a stress fracture in his back. Along with Shinwari, Junaid Khan has also been sidelined with a stress fracture in his foot. All-rounder Imad Wasim has also missed out on the New Zealand tour after failing to meet the fitness standards. The absence of these three players will undoubtedly create problems for the team management. The management will now have to formulate a new combination according to the conditions.
The biggest problem that Pakistan faces is the lack of international cricket since October. While the New Zealand team is fresh off a victory against West Indies, Pakistani players haven’t played the fifty over format since October. The players will need to quickly adjust to the fifty overs format in order to stand toe to toe with the Blackcaps.
On the positive side, the return of Mohammed Amir and Azhar Ali is surely going to boost Pakistan’s chances. Mohammed Amir and Roman Raees have the potential to form a formidable new bowl partnership. Amir’s experience of the New Zealand condition along with his ability to swing the new ball will add much-needed depth to Pakistan’s bowling line up. Similarly, Azhar Ali will also play a key role in handling the new ball attack of Southee and Boult at the top of the order. The experienced batsman has already demonstrated his form with a hundred in a tour game.
Overall, the team’s bowling lineup has the ability to trouble any opposition under any conditions. In Hassan Ali, Sarfaraz Ahmed has got a perfect first change option while in Shadab the team has a perfect spinner to choke the opposition batting line up. The combination of Babar Azam, Shoaib Malik, and Mohammed Hafeez also provides the team with a strong middle order. Moreover, the inclusion of Faheem Ashraf or Aamer Yamin also provides the captain with more bowling options while strengthening the lower order.
At the end of the day, the series will surely test the Pakistan ODI line up. The foreign conditions and a strong Black Cap’s side will be tough to overcome. It will be interesting to see how the men in green deal with their first real test after the Champions trophy win. As fans, we can surely expect entertaining cricket from both sides.