Champions Trophy Preview – Pakistan

Captain – Sarfraz Ahmed

Dangerman – Sarfraz Ahmed

Sarfraz Ahmed only took on the ODI captain’s armband in February after Azhur Ali stepped down after he found the burden was effecting his ability to score runs.  Since then, Misbah-ul-Haq has also stepped down as captain of the test team, meaning that Ahmed suddenly has a huge amount of responsibility to attempt to extend the feel-good factor surrounding Pakistan cricket at the moment.  It’s never easy for any player to take the captaincy reigns coming straight into a big tournament.  Being seen as the leader to follow in the footsteps of a captain who has dragged his country through the choppy waters of 2010, and taken them to the top of the world rankings despite not being able to play a test match at home since 2009, is all but impossible.

This will be the first major test of the new campaign.  Pakistan will need Sarfraz’ runs and leadership in equal measure.

Why they’re a Threat

This Pakistan set up has, for several years now, shown itself to show strength often when the odds against them are at their greatest.  Team spirit is often a horribly overused phrase in sport, although just occasionally there are few other adjectives that do the job.  Trying to analyse how Pakistan have performed so well over the past six or seven years with seemingly little to work with, one finds it difficult to use superlatives for them that don’t include a variation along the lines of ‘spirit’ and ‘culture’.

They’ve also got some serious talent to back it up, too.  The return of Azhur Ali will provide some much-needed leadership to the top of the order of their batting line-up, whilst the pace of Mohammed Amir and Wahab Riaz could be very successful in English conditions.

Achilles’ Heel

The five match ODI series which followed a memorable drawn test series last summer proved that Pakistan are still very beatable on foreign soil with the white ball.  England blew them away in four out of the five matches, including a world record 444 at Trent Bridge, and made Pakistan’s bowling attack in particular look unable to stem the flow of easy runs.

Their batsman also failed to clear the ropes with any regularity; the type of strength taken for granted with other batting units around the world was quite clearly absent with the 2016 touring side; whether they’ve been able to improve on this aspect of the game that is so important in modern ODI cricket remains to be seen.

Last Time?

Frankly, they had a shocker.  They were comfortably the worst team in the tournament after being bowled out for scores of 170, 167 and 165 by the West Indies, South Africa and India respectively.  They nearly sneaked a win in Cardiff against the West Indies after they nearly bowled out a strong Windies batting line-up chasing a small target that was nearly all down to a 96 not out from Misbah, but eventually lost by two wickets.   But in their two other matches they were blown away by superior bowling attacks and some lacklustre strokeplay, and they were clearly not well prepared for what has become a very challenging tournament.

Look out for Chances?

Unfortunately, controversy never seems to be far away from anything affiliated with Pakistan cricket.  The Pakistan Super League, although overall an enormous success as a tournament that culminated in the first match of any significance being held actually in Pakistan when the final in Lahore went off without a blip, also had its problems.  A total of five players were suspended from the competition in February on suspicion of having links with an international fixing syndicate.

There continues to be certain amount of disregard for the Pakistan setup in the UK after their horror show in 2010; they began to win the British public round with their heroics here last summer; that work needs to continue during this tournament.

Odds

12/1 – Sixth favourites (Betfair)

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