The PCB revealed their 15-player squad for the upcoming ICC ODI World Cup 2023 on September 22. Notable aspects of this announcement included retaining Fakhar Zaman, despite his recent poor form, and retaining leg-spinner Usama Mir, who remained unused during the Asia Cup.
Another significant development was the inclusion of the rapid bowler Haris Rauf, who has recuperated from his right shoulder injury, while Naseem Shah couldn’t overcome his shoulder injury, leading to his omission from the squad. The selection of Hasan Ali, who had been absent from the ODI squad since the middle of the previous year, was perhaps the most surprising choice.
In the upcoming 2023 World Cup, Babar Azam’s team is set to participate in round-robin matches hosted in Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Chennai, and Kolkata. The India-Pakistan encounter, slated for October 14 in Ahmedabad, is undoubtedly one of the most eagerly anticipated fixtures of the tournament. Pakistan’s journey to secure a second ODI World Cup championship will commence on October 6 when they face the Netherlands in Hyderabad.
#1 Outdated Opening Batting Strategy with Fakhar Zaman Struggling for Form
One of the top concerns, possibly the most pressing, is the alarming dip in form for opening batsman Fakhar Zaman. He had a remarkable start to the year in ODIs, which included a trio of centuries against New Zealand, earning him the Player of the Month for April. Over the last ten ODI innings, the 33-year-old has failed to surpass 35 runs, with five instances of scoring less than 20. Additionally, there’s the troubling drop in his strike rate, which has plummeted into the 60s during this period, a significant departure from his career strike rate of 92.
Beyond Fakhar’s struggles, there’s a less evident issue with the batting strategy of Pakistan’s top three. Although fellow opener Imam Ul Haq and captain Babar Azam maintain impressive averages of 50.44 and 58.17, their strike rates fall below 90. Furthermore, both these batsmen tend to commence their innings at a strike rate in the 70s, only picking up the pace once they’re well-established. This means that Pakistan often lags during the powerplay, a crucial phase in batting, especially on Indian pitches, potentially resulting in below-par totals.
#2 Absence of Effective Spin Bowlers with Wicket-Taking and Control Abilities
It’s evident that spin will be a critical factor on Indian pitches in the upcoming World Cup. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s spin bowling seems to be their Achilles’ heel, and this deficiency likely contributed significantly to their recent Asia Cup exit. Despite having three dedicated spinners in the squad – Shadab Khan, Mohammad Nawaz, and Usama Mir – none of them has consistently delivered strong performances in ODIs.
Usama Mir, who didn’t get to play in the Asia Cup, has less-than-encouraging statistics, with an average of 35 and an economy rate approaching 5.50 runs per over in his 11 ODIs. During the Asia Cup, the mainstay spin duo of Shadab and Nawaz struggled in spin-friendly conditions. Shadab took six wickets in five games at an average of over 40 and an economy rate close to six.
Meanwhile, Nawaz performed even worse, securing just one wicket in three games with a woeful average of 94 and an economy rate exceeding 5.50 runs per over.
#3 Inexperienced Finishers in the Lower Middle Order
A significant factor contributing to Pakistan’s top order taking their time to establish innings could be the absence of seasoned finishers in the lower middle order. While it’s true that the emergence of Mohammad Rizwan and Iftikhar Ahmed seemed to address some of these concerns, uncertainties persist, particularly concerning the No. 6 position.
Initially, Pakistan had high hopes for Agha Salman, who exhibited promise at the beginning of his ODI career. However, the 29-year-old faced struggles in the Asia Cup, managing just 40 runs at an average of 20 and a strike rate of below 60. Considering that many matches in a fiercely competitive World Cup may be closely contested, having experienced and accomplished batsmen in the middle to lower middle order becomes crucial.
Additionally, it’s worth noting that this will be the first ODI World Cup appearance for Rizwan, Iftikhar, and Salman, and their lack of experience could significantly influence Pakistan’s prospects throughout the tournament.