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Sensible cricket is one thing that Pakistan fans desire from their team. Pakistan can win and lose in unexpected ways. They have always been like this. No one thought they could win 1992 World Cup or the 2009 World T20. But they did. Yet, arguably one of their best teams lost the 1999 World Cup final in a mediocre manner. That’s Pakistan for you.
Once again, they will start with the ‘unpredictable’ tag. They will never pose a serious threat to the Champions Trophy title which starts on June 1 in England and at the same time, can never be counted out. They can surprise, like they have done in the past.
Though they haven’t played ODI cricket for a while now, Pakistan have a big task at hand in the shorter format of the game. The recent Test series against West Indies, which they won, saw the end of an era in Pakistan cricket as Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq retired. And because of that, the team in England will have an added responsibility.
The reign of ODI captaincy shifted from Azhar Ali to Sarfraz Ahmed and he has a big task at hand in the first big game of his career as captain. It’s inevitable. The pressure of India-Pakistan match is something you cannot escape. While Sarfraz said Pakistan have a better record against India in Champions Trophy, he knows that it won’t be easy.
Pakistan are placed in the same group as India, joined by Sri Lanka and South Africa. They can think this is an easy group. They should fancy their chances against India as anyone can succumb to the pressure of a big match. South Africa are known to choke at ICC events and Sri Lanka are in a transitional phase, which seems to be going on for quite some time now.
If Pakistan’s batting was unreliable, their bowling doesn’t wear the lethal-attacking look this time. Wahab Riaz will be the senior bowler but Mohammad Amir will play a big role in the tournament. Not to be counted out is Junaid Khan, who had one of the most promising starts to a career.
But the bowlers haven’t performed well in the past. Since the 2015 World Cup, Pakistan bowlers average the worst and their strike-rate is only better than West Indies, among all the countries that play one-dayers.
The batting will rely heavily on Babar Azam, touted as the next big thing of Pakistan cricket. Azhar, Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik will use their experience to guide the team but only a complete team effort can see them go deep in the tournament.
There are no major concerns for Pakistan. No player seems to be injured or suffered the burnout of international cricket calendar. They will also not mind playing in England as the conditions are likely to suit the bowlers even though the pitches have become flatter and 300+ totals are a common occurrence.
Last time they were in England for an ICC event, it was the 2013 Champions Trophy. Pakistan, especially the four players part of the 2013 squad, must have forgetful memories of that tournament. Pakistan failed to win even a single game and crashed out of the tournament in the group stages.
This time, Pakistan will like to turn things around not only by winning matches and probably the title, but by shedding the tag of the unpredictable.