Despite not making it to the semi-finals of the 2019 World Cup, Pakistan had their moments. They won four games in a row to sign off the tournament and they beat both teams that ended up making it to the final. They lost out on a semi-final spot to New Zealand on net run-rate, thanks to a crushing defeat against West Indies in their first game, a contender for their worst World Cup performance of all time.
That could be viewed as a positive tournament for a nation ranked seventh going into it, but the PCB came to a different conclusion, letting go of the coaching staff and replacing the captain. The job was given to Misbah-ul-Haq, his first major coaching role since his international retirement in 2017. But two years on from an ODI tournament which the PCB felt necessitated a change, what do we know about the new man’s plans for that format?
Surprisingly little, really, but the blame for that can hardly lie at the head coach’s feet. Pakistan have played a mere five ODIs since Misbah’s appointment, fewer than Papua New Guinea, Oman and Namibia; only Nepal, with four, have played less ODI cricket in that time. Two ODIs against Sri Lanka in 2019 and the three Zimbabwe played in Rawalpindi last year offer the only glimpse into Pakistan’s roadmap for the 2023 World Cup for now.
While that might have taught us little, Pakistan are about to head into a series that should offer plenty more insight. The three-match series in Centurion and Johannesburg is the first real test of a Misbah-led ODI side, and the head coach’s first audition to retain that position going into the 2023 World Cup. With much of Pakistan’s focus on T20 cricket over the past year – understandably so, given there are two T20 World Cups before the next ODI World Cup – this format has been something of an afterthought.
But Pakistan’s belief is that the cricket we get to see in the upcoming ODIs should put paid to any ideas that the format is being neglected. Having closely followed the India-England series over the past week, Pakistan feel there are several lessons to be learned, and while England’s generational talents make it difficult for any side to repurpose their template for their own use, expect to see Pakistan try and emulate India’s approach at their best.
Pakistan have played safe, perhaps even anodyne, ODI cricket for several years now, and results in major competitions have reflected that. A brilliant, if inexplicable, 2017 Champions Trophy aside, Pakistan’s two most recent World Cup performances have seen them finish fifth (2019) and exit at the quarter-final stage in 2015. The Champions Trophy in 2013 saw them lose all of their group stage games; since the start of 2013, Pakistan have won just 22 of 81 ODIs against Australia, England, India, New Zealand and South Africa – the sort of sides you generally compete against at the back end of big tournaments.
That approach, talk from within the camp suggests, might be belatedly shelved, and that the cricket they play in South Africa will reflect that. That means it is likelier to see them get bowled out for 250 in pursuit of totals in the mid-300s, rather than opting for the safety of 280.
While a top four of Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan doesn’t necessarily suggest explosiveness, the thinking seems to be that consolidating early on will allow versatile players like Azam and Rizwan to move through the gears in the middle overs, letting Asif Ali, Faheem Ashraf and Shadab Khan loose later on.
This would appear to suggest an approach reminiscent of the kind India take, of prioritising wickets in hand over flying starts. Zaman’s contributions up top become essential to any kind of positive start, with an early departure likely to entrench Pakistan into caution.
This is where a lower middle order comprising Asif, Shadab and Ashraf begins to look slightly frail; while those players look great walking out in the final 15 overs, their ability to consolidate should the top order fall early is yet to be tested. Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez in the middle have historically provided a buffer, but with Pakistan intent on moving on, this is an area that will need close attention in the run-up to 2023.
It would also signal, if indeed Pakistan take this approach, a departure from the style Pakistan favoured in the ODI series against Zimbabwe, where a scratchy 2-1 win did little to suggest tangible progress. In South Africa, conditions might be more favourable to a progressive approach with the bat, especially at the Wanderers and SuperSport Park.
While much of the focus when it comes to Pakistan’s quaint approach to ODI cricket has zeroed in on the batting, Pakistan’s bowling is in a transitional, uncertain phase, too. Mohammad Amir is out of the picture, as, most likely, is Wahab Riaz, two of the sides’ spearheads at the World Cup. And while this is an area often deemed to be Pakistan’s strength, the numbers, especially at the death, are concerning.
Since the end of the 2015 World Cup, only West Indies, Sri Lanka and England have been more generous in the final ten overs than the 7.47 runs Pakistan allow. Shaheen Afridi aside, none of the quick bowlers have quite nailed that phase of the innings. Hasan Ali, set to play his first ODIs since the World Cup game against India, began his career in the death overs well (his economy rate until the end of 2017 was 5.11) but faded as his overall form did. Managing Pakistan’s resources at the death provides an interesting challenge for fledgling captain Azam.
The spin department might also see some turnover as the games progress, but this series might well be a bellwether for the direction Shadab’s ODI career. As his skills with the bat have improved, his struggles with ball in hand – his primary value to the side – have continued to trend in the wrong direction. For obvious reasons, the most useful sample size comes from T20 cricket, but Pakistan will have their head turned by Usman Qadir’s sharp rise in the shortest format, and they may well wonder if he can be pressed into ODI service at some point.
With the lack of control the bowling department seems to offer, the absence of Imad Wasim might seem curious, but it appears attitude and disciplinary reasons have taken precedence over cricketing ones. Ditto Haris Sohail, which puts Danish Aziz front and centre at No. 5 in the order.
There is enough to suggest though that this is a budding, developing side not a decaying one. This series might be an important pre-credits scene in a captivating coming-of-age story if the ideas behind it come to fruition over the next week, but not all the plot points make complete sense just yet. It might need extensive work from a young cast to sell the idea, because in the world of Pakistan cricket, those behind the script might just as easily be left on the cutting room floor in the big picture.
Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000
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Recent Match Report – Yorkshire vs Lancashire North Group 2021
Lancashire 131 for 6 (Wells 30, Croft 26*) beat Yorkshire 128 for 7 (Root 32, Ballance 31, Wood 4-20) by four wickets
Lancashire needed to win their final North Group tie to join Yorkshire in the quarter-finals of the Vitality Blast, but do not believe that Yorkshire were soft-pedalling as a result. They were tigerishly defending their inadequate 128 for 7 with Lancashire five down, 15 needed from 18 balls and enough tension to ensure that the result was not quite the formality it sounds.
Not since Marcelo Bielsa ordered Leeds United deliberately to concede a goal against Aston Villa two years ago will Yorkshire have debated acts of sporting integrity with such passion. It’s probably worth reflecting that the three players involved in the decision had a combined age of 68 and have not actually played much professional cricket. The bowler, Matthew Waite, the fielder Jordan Thompson, the keeper Harry Duke. Integrity or largely confusion? It would be no surprise to find that some on Yorkshire’s coaching staff disagreed with their humanitarian stance (this is not often presented as a prime feature of Yorkshire cricket) and for the sake of history perhaps they should put their views on the record.
Root, impressively, seeking unity, protecting all concerned, was a master of diplomacy. “As a side we made a very difficult decision under pressure,” he said. “It looked very serious at first glance. In many ways it was a relief it was nothing serious. I am sure there will be many different opinions. Many people would have handled it differently.”
(Forgive the personal intervention here, but as somebody who ruptured two Achilles tendons in mid-pitch in successive seasons in Yorkshire club cricket and was run out both times, yes, it’s possible they probably would have done. Maybe I morally deserved those not outs? Acts of integrity, 30 years on, seem a very good thing).
The umpires called a dead ball, although that decision was just to negotiate a settlement. There was no right or wrong. There was just half a second when three young players wondered what to do. It is not clear whether Root, a captain, who whether he likes it or not has become the moral conscience of England cricket, uttered an instruction.
But what of Croft, Lancashire’s Lazarus? “Two games in two days at 36 and a bit of sun has done me,” he told Sky TV. “I put the brakes on, they worked, and my legs just cramped up. I didn’t know where the ball had gone. They could have taken the bails off and credit to them that they didn’t.”
There was little need to ask him how he was. His unbeaten 26 from 29 balls had concluded with a sprinted two and an uninhibited pull against Matt Fisher, with six needed from eight balls, that was almost intercepted, left-handed, by Thompson on the midwicket boundary only for him to fall into the boundary advertising and the ball to roll for four. He struck the next ball slightly squarer for the winning hit. He had the decency to curb his celebrations.
All this meant that Lancashire extended a winning sequence against Yorkshire in the Old Trafford Roses T20 that began in 2015. Simply put, but accurate for all that, they won it on the Powerplay. On a grabby, used Old Trafford pitch, this is where runs are most easily made. Yorkshire made 27 for 2, restricted by an entire top five (with the exception of Adam Lyth who got out early) which seemed to want to play the controlling role. Lancashire, by contrast, returned 57 for 3.
Lancashire understood the Old Trafford pitch and bought into the nature of what they had to do, no more so than the New Zealander Finn Allen, who made 22 from eight balls, easefully striking Adam Lyth’s fill-in offspin for two successive legside sixes in the second over before he was bowled in what has become a very predictable fashion – careering outside off stump against the seam bowling of Matthew Fisher to leave his leg stump exposed.
And Lancashire had a champion with the ball up front. Luke Wood’s left-arm pace is always full of verve and on this occasion his length, his change-ups, his concentration, was also on the money. He returned a career-best 4 for 20 and to rub it in for Yorkshire he was born in Sheffield.
He had Lyth brilliantly caught down the legside by Dane Vilas, who spring athletically to his right to hold a pukka leg glance, and left Mark Stoneman uncertain with changes of length and pace before nipping one back into his off stump. Stoneman’s loan from Surrey, despite a half-century, had not been a success.
Root and Harry Brook, brought together after 2.5 overs, both wanted to play the long game before expanding. Root, the England captain, whose game is built upon it. Brook, the leading scorer in the Blast, whose success has been built upon a low-risk start. Wood had shaken Yorkshire and by the time both were dismissed (Root cutting, Brook bowled by the workaday offspin of Luke Wells) Yorkshire has used more than half their overs in making 59.
There followed panic. Here’s one for the data analysts. What are the record number of balls in a second half of a T20 innings where batsmen swing above the ball without making contract? Yorkshire must be up there. Somehow, Gary Balance, desperation etched on his face, emerged with a highly creditable 31 from 21 before Wood’s on-a-length cutter defeated his legside swipe.
At 64 for 5 off 7.2 overs, Lancashire could have lost the game. They should have reined in their aggression with three down, instead they adjusted with five lost. They had probably just about won it when Croft, innocently enough, collapsed in mid-pitch. But it is a rare Roses match that proves to be straightforward.
David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps
Match Preview – England vs Pakistan, Pakistan tour of England 2021, 2nd T20I
Buttler is expected to return to the side for the hosts, and Bairstow is fit despite bruising his finger
An England win on Friday and Pakistan might have checked out of the tour, but the series is instead poised tantalisingly now. England have to reconcile their desire to test and tinker ahead of the T20 World Cup with staving off a series defeat before they name their squad for the big event. Livingstone, until recently an outsider, suddenly appears central. Meanwhile, a strangely off-colour captain Eoin Morgan must ensure he has to score runs to pull his weight in a side essentially moulded in his image.
They move now to Headingley, another venue that hasn’t exactly been frugal with the runs in the T20 Blast this season. England will probably have few regrets about the way they went about their chase on Friday. That fearless, relentless, attacking approach has brought them most of their success in the past half-decade. However, they might wonder if they acquitted themselves as well with the ball as they should have. In the first half of the innings, they were rather staid and passive, and at the death, there was uncharacteristic waywardness. David Willey at 9.75 was the most economical of the England bowlers, while Pakistan had two – Afridi (9) and Hasnain (7) – who maintained a tighter grip on the runs.
England LWWWL (last five completed T20Is, most recent first)
In the spotlight
England (probable): 1 Jason Roy, 2 Jos Buttler (wk), 3 Dawid Malan, 4 Jonny Bairstow, 5 Liam Livingstone, 6 Eoin Morgan (capt), 7 Lewis Gregory, 8 David Willey, 9 Tom Curran/Chris Jordan, 10 Adil Rashid/Matt Parkinson, 11 Saqib Mahmood
Pakistan are unlikely to want to tinker much with a side that managed their highest T20I total. Any changes to Friday’s side would be a surprise.
Pakistan: (probable): 1 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 2 Babar Azam (capt), 3 Fakhar Zaman, 4 Sohaib Maqsood, 5 Mohammad Hafeez, 6 Azam Khan, 7 Shadab Khan, 8 Imad Wasim, 9 Haris Rauf, 10 Mohammad Hasnain, 11 Shaheen Shah Afridi
Pitch and conditions
The average first-innings total in the T20 Blast at this ground is 192, so expect both sides to try and pile on the runs once more.
Stats and trivia
“We’re desperate to win the games – we’ve got two games to win the series – but there is experimenting going on because we’ve got to give guys opportunities. There’s not many games before the T20 World Cup and you’ve got to give guys opportunities.”
England stand-in coach Paul Collingwood weighs up how to balance results while using the series as an audition for the T20 World Cup
Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000
SL vs IND 2021 – 1st ODI – Shikhar Dhawan
Limited-overs captain says no chats with team management in England about player selection have happened yet
“Every series is big when you play for India and all the players know how important every game is,” Dhawan said. “There is competition for the opening slot and it’s a very good thing. Whoever plays, the goal is to do well as a team. Along the way, if we also do well, then these things [selection] take care of themselves.”
“As of now, I haven’t had any specific chat with Virat or Ravi bhai,” he said. “I’m sure they may have spoken to Rahul bhai, or the selectors and that message will be conveyed to us. Whoever it is, the focus is on the T20 World Cup. If selectors or team management come to a mutual understanding that we need to play someone specifically, this is a great platform to have a look at them.”
The 837 runs Shaw made during Mumbai’s title-winning run, including three 150-plus scores, is the most in Vijay Hazare Trophy history, and Shaw continued his sparkling form in the IPL too. Padikkal, the tall left-handed opener, finished second in the Hazare Trophy with 737 runs, courtesy four consecutive List A centuries. He followed that up with an excellent IPL season for Royal Challengers Bangalore before the season was postponed due to the pandemic.
Dhawan was then prodded a bit about India’s six spin bowling options – the others are Krunal Pandya and the uncapped duo of Varun Chakravarthy and K Gowtham – and if they intended to give all of them a look-in at some stage.
“We haven’t really discussed who gets how many games,” he said. “The first goal is to win the series and we will play the best XI to win. We will pick whoever we feel can do well [on a given day]. it’s not like we have to play everyone just because we have brought them here. That is not the thought process.”
Dhawan was most happy about having gotten to spend time with the younger players. The group spent two weeks in Mumbai and have spent three weeks in Colombo, having bonded on and off the field, apart from playing a few practice matches. In a video put out on social media, Dhawan was even seen playing flute with Shaw singing along.
“I’ve interacted with all my younger colleagues,” he said with a smile. “It’s good to know them personally, see their skills in the nets. It’s great to be connected to them – [Sandeep] Warrier, [Ishan] Porel, Akshdeep [Singh] and all other youngsters . There is great vibe in the team. It’s been a month now [that they have been together].”
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
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