The demolition in New Zealand is a reality check for Pakistan


NEW ZEALAND: The manner in which Pakistan won last summer’s Champions Trophy, more than the actual triumph, signalled the rebound for the national side’s limited-overs cricket.

Captain Sarfraz Ahmed seemed to have instilled the positivity and aggression that modern day cricket needs, and the absolute overpowering of India – at an ICC event – in the final, just seemed to have reaffirmed everyone’s optimism.

What followed was a five-match ODI whitewash of Sri Lanka in the UAE, which took Pakistan’s winning streak to nine matches heading into the New Zealand tour, which was understandably dubbed a stiff test for the visitors.

On Tuesday, Pakistan went 4-0 down in the five-match ODI series, after having New Zealand at 99-4 (19.4) and 154-5 (35) in their chase of Pakistan’s 262. That the 15 overs between the dismissals of Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson were the only period that Pakistan has been ahead in any of the four matches, shows just how comprehensive the defeat in New Zealand has been. Pakistan will look to avoid a five zip whitewash in the final ODI on Friday before the T20 series begins on Monday.

Of course, knee-jerk reactions are almost always counterproductive, and losing away to New Zealand is hardly a catastrophic result. But like Champions Trophy, the actual disaster lies in the manner of the defeats than the losses themselves.

For four 50 over contests, Pakistan haven’t had a sniff. They simply haven’t been competitive in the ODIs.

As usual, most of the backlash would be faced by the batting – and rightly so – but the bowling has been severely below standards as well. Hasan Ali twice and Rumman Raees and Shadab Khan once each have been able to take three wickets – the most for Pakistan – in an innings in the four matches. Mohammad Amir meanwhile has only taken two wickets in the entire series so far.

Also, it’s not just the lack of wickets – each of the Pakistani bowlers has gone the distance, even if varyingly so. Most criminally, they have clearly failed to exploit the few openings that were offered to them – for instance, the fourth ODI and even when they managed to take two New Zealand wickets in the first 10 overs in the second ODI.

Meanwhile, in the third ODI when they did manage to pull New Zealand back from 209-3 in the 43rd over to 257 all out, it was the batting that nearly broke the all-time record for the lowest ODI score.

The batting, of course, has been exposed – yet again. The likes of Azhar Ali, Shoaib Malik and Babar Azam and Sarfraz Ahmed – barring one innings in the fourth ODI – haven’t turned up at all.

Shoaib Malik’s form has been the biggest disappointment, with him being the mainstay of the middle-order. Azhar Ali’s form and the fact that he was dropped for the fourth ODI has further put question marks over his place and longevity in the ODI format.

Sarfraz might’ve been stranded in the third ODI, and scored the fifty in the fourth, but questions over his batting persist. For instance, it isn’t quite comprehensible why Faheem Ashraf was asked to open the innings in the fourth ODI – with Fakhar Zaman – making it two similar openers when Sarfraz himself with his success atop would’ve been a better option.

Even so, Babar Azam’s form is perhaps the most worrying. He is supposed to be the brightest young talent among the Pakistani batsmen but seems to have scored most of his runs against the West Indies, Sri Lanka or in lost causes. He wasn’t the one who set the Champions Trophy afire and has scored a collective 21 runs in four ODIs in New Zealand. He definitely has managed to muster impressive numbers, but it’s about time we put those into context as well.

Of course, that context doesn’t lead to sacking Babar Azam or indeed Shoaib Malik. But a top three featuring Azhar Ali and Babar Azam doesn’t work at all – nor does a top two featuring Fakhar and Faheem of course.

Maybe, Sarfraz should open with Fakhar, with Haris Sohail coming in the middle order, with the left-hander impressing in all formats that he has been given a chance in.

But there is a clear lack of impetus and flair in the middle and lower middle order, which needs to be addressed. Shoaib Malik has what is needed, along with volumes of experience, while Hafeez too can strike it, especially when there aren’t many balls to spare – which is why it might be advisable to play him at number six.

But while too many changes in personnel mightn’t be the order of the day, what’s clear is that the Champions Trophy heroes have many a limitation that needs to be addressed with the ODI World Cup next year.