When Pakistan were blanked 2-0 in the Test series by a little-fancied Sri Lankan team in the UAE, Sarfraz and Co came under intense fire from critics and not without reason. But just days later, Pakistan have bounced back by once against underlining their superiority in the limited-overs format. They have comfortably taken an unassailable 4-0 lead against Sri Lanka in the One-day International series.
The series triumph comes after Pakistan’s stunning ICC Champions Trophy victory in England. The winning spree is a good sign for Pakistan, who till a few weeks back were wondering whether they will be able to raise a strong enough squad for the next World Cup to be held in England in the summer of 2019.
The current form book suggests that not only Pakistan seem capable of raising a strong side, they seem good enough to take a serious shot at the coveted title that they last won back in 1992.
So what has changed for Pakistan that they have transformed themselves from an under-achieving 50-over team into a side that can beat the best in business?
There has been a change in leadership. A more aggressive Sarfraz Ahmed has taken over from the likes of Misbah-ul-Haq and Azhar Ali. But a change in command isn’t the primary reason behind Pakistan’s resurgence as a force to be reckoned with in the 50-over format. It’s the introduction of young and talented players like Hasan Ali that has really made the difference. In recent times, Pakistan have shown more faith in youngsters and the infusion of new blood has started to pay dividends. The rise of players like Babar Azam, Shadab Khan, Imad Wasim, Fakhar Zaman, Faheem Ashraf etc has catapulted Pakistan towards the top of the ODI rankings.
Talking of rankings, the record-breaking Hasan Ali has become the No. 1 bowler in the world for the first time in his career. Hasan’s rise up the bowling rankings has been quite a stunning story. He is the highest wicket-taker this year, he was Player of the Series in the ICC Champions Trophy and more recently he became the fastest Pakistan bowler to 50 ODI wickets – beating the legendary Waqar Younis. The No. 1 spot – he climbed six places – comes as the latest reason to celebrate for the 23-year-old from Mandi Bahauddin.
Hasan is not the only Pakistani to move up the ICC rankings’ ladder recently.
The seasoned Mohammad Hafeez has taken over as the world’s number one all-rounder, a day after he was reported for a suspect action. He has surpassed Bangladesh’s Shakib Al Hasan. Hafeez, 37, has claimed the top spot on the allrounder’s rankings for the ninth time.
The arrival of talented youngsters, who have made their presence felt on the international circuit, seems to have forced senior players like Hafeez to pull up their socks and start giving their best. Hafeez, along with former Pakistan captain Shoaib Malik, has done well in the series against Sri Lanka so far and it seems that the duo have gained the trust of skipper Sarfraz.
Both of them must be targeting spots in Pakistan’s squad for World Cup 2019. Currently, it seems that they will achieve that target but the thing is that the World Cup is still more than 20 months away and the two of them aren’t getting any younger. Both Hafeez and Malik will have to stay fit and will need to continue delivering if they are to play in another World Cup before quitting international cricket. But instead of just counting on that, Pakistan should use low-profile matches like the dead rubber against Sri Lanka to try out younger players, who are knocking at the doors of international cricket. Pakistan should give opportunities to boys like Usman Salahuddin. They should give a chance to players like Shadab to bat up the order. Shadab made an impressive fifty in the current series that helped Pakistan to win that particular game. I would like to see him bat a bit up the order. He could graduate into a bowling all-rounder. What Pakistan can do is rest Malik and Hafeez every now and then and give younger players more opportunities to prove their worth. This has worked for them in recent times and there is no reason why it won’t work again.