In a 50-over game of cricket, opening is considered the best position because not only do you get to bat the most overs, you also enjoy the first power-play overs.
Sanath Jayasuriya was introduced to capitalise on the advantage of first power play. Jayasuriya used to hit right from the beginning and no one used the power plays better than he did.
Opening partnership always plays a vital role in a team’s victory. If openers provide a solid foundation with a reasonable run rate, the middle order can post a competitive total on the board or chase any target.
But if the openers fall cheaply, the middle order batsmen have to consolidate instead of scoring runs with pace.
Openers have been the weakest point in Pakistan’s batting line-up for a long time. The management has tried many players, but the opening slots have remained uncertain. The duo of Fakhar Zaman and Imam-ul-Haq was relatively successful in recent tours but the two failed in the World Cup.
Imam scored 305 and Fakhar just 186 in eight matches, averaging 38.12 and 23.25, respectively. Imam hit one hundred and one fifty while Fakhar scored only one half century. The opponent teams found Fakhar’s weakness of chasing the deliveries outside the off stump.
Against Afghanistan, Fakhar even failed to open his account.
In the eight matches of the World Cup, Pakistan’s opening partnerships were 17 against West Indies, 82 against England, 2 against Australia, 13 against India, 81 against South Africa, 19 against New Zealand, 0 against Afghanistan and 23 against Bangladesh. Their average was 29.62.
On the other hand, Indian openers provided much better opening stands: 13 against South Africa, 127 against Australia, 29 against Pakistan, 7 against Afghanistan, 29 against West Indies, eight against England and 180 against Bangladesh. Their average was 49.12.
Indian opener Rohit Sharma in seven matches scored 544 runs, including four centuries and one fifty, at an average of 90.66.
Australian openers David Warner (516) and Aaron Finch (504), and England openers Jonny Bairstow (356) and Jason Roy (281) provided great starts.
Fakhar and Imam provided solid foundations in four matches of the ODI series against Zimbabwe last year. People thought Pakistan had finally found a reliable opening pair which could serve the country for a long time. They scored 704 runs together in the series. Fakhar scored 515 and Imam 395. In the series the pair shared four century-partnerships.
It was a memorable series for Fakhar as he became the quickest batsman to complete 1000 runs in his 18th innings.
In the fourth ODI of the series, Fakhar became the first Pakistan batsman to score a double century in an ODI.
Imam also justified his selection by scoring as many as three centuries, averaging 79.
He had scored a hundred on his debut against Sri Lanka in 2017. So he became the first batsman to make four ODI centuries inside his first ten matches.
In the fourth ODI against Zimbabwe, Fakhar and Imam scored 304 runs for the opening stand. It was the first 300-plus partnership for the first wicket in ODIs.
In 2019, Fakhar played 18 ODIs, and scored 553 runs with one hundred and three fifties, at an average of 30.72, much lower than his career average of over 50 before the current year.
In his first two years, Fakhar played 26 matches in which he scored three centuries and eight half centuries. In seven matches of the World Cup, he managed only one fifty against India.
In 36 matches, Imam has scored 1692 runs, averaging 47, with seven centuries and six fifties.
We should not blame anyone but ourselves. Whether New Zealand deserved to be in the semi-finals or not may be debated. But one thing is clear: we didn’t deserve to be in the last four. We made a comeback but that was too late.
Pakistan stunned tournament favourites England in just their second game. But then, an abandoned match against Sri Lanka and back-to-back defeats against Australia and India dented their chances to qualify for the semis. And when New Zealand went down to England at Chester-le-Street, it was almost all over for Pakistan.
We should admit our failures gracefully and should not depend on other teams’ result.
Another main reason for Pakistan’s under performance in the World Cup was the failure of veteran batsmen Shoaib Malik and Muhammad Hafeez.
Haris Sohail replaced Malik effectively and boosted the middle order, but we didn’t have a proper replacement for the openers.
There was a third opener in Abid Ali, but he was withdrawn to accommodate Asif Ali.
At the time of picking the final World Cup squad, the selectors preferred Malik and Hafeez. They ignored wicketkeeper-batsman Muhammad Rizwan who had scored two hundreds against Australia in the ODI series in the UAE.
If people think Pakistan didn’t deserve to be in the semis and New Zealand deserved the spot, they should see the statistics. Both teams finished with 11 points each but there is a difference. New Zealand won their matches against Afghanistan, Bangladesh, South Africa, Sri Lanka and West Indies. They lost to Australia and England while their match against India was washed out.
On the other hand, Pakistan beat England, New Zealand, South Africa, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, while their match against Sri Lanka was washed out. Results show that Pakistan beat highly-ranked teams including the two semi-finalists England and New Zealand while the Kiwis didn’t win against any semi-finalist.
Pakistan couldn’t improve their run-rate after heavy loss against against West Indies in their opening match when the Greenshirts were bowled out for just 105 runs.
New Zealand are lucky enough to be in the semis with wins against low-profile teams.