5 ways Pakistan can turn the tri-series against Zimbabwe and Australia in their favour

Source:  Tribune Published in Sports on Friday, June 29, 2018

The clouds of concern have cleared, and Pakistan is now ready to take on Zimbabwe and the currently third-ranked (in T20Is) Australia in a couple of days. Due to a financial crisis, the Zimbabwe Cricket Board was very uncertain regarding sponsorship and players’ availability for the tri-series, but it seems now that everything is in place to get the show started.

Pakistan will be starting the series as favourites, which is very rare. The last time this was the case was in 2014 when Pakistan entered the Asia Cup as favourites, since India was short of their most dependable players: Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina and MS Dhoni.

Currently, hosts Zimbabwe are short of key players and Australia is coming in with a humiliating loss of 5-0  against England. Therefore, it is the perfect time for Sarfraz Ahmad and his men to add another feather in their caps by winning this triangular series. Pakistan will first take on Zimbabwe and then Australia for a 20-over tournament respectively, followed by a five-match ODI series with Zimbabwe.

Here are a few talking points to consider before the series that can help Pakistan put forth a strong foot.

1. Young blood

Pakistan has picked uncapped Sahibzada Farhan for the T20 series, while the rest of the squad is pretty much the same as was in Scotland a few days back. Farhan is the upcoming sensation who shined during the Pakistan Super League (PSL) whilst playing for Islamabad United.

Sahibzada Farhan slaps the ball through cover, Peshawar Zalmi v Islamabad United, PSL final, Karachi, March 26, 2018. Photo: Getty

With Babar Azam recovering from an injury, Mickey Arthur is desperate to find a solid partner for Fakhar Zaman at the top of the lineup. It would be a great opportunity for Farhan, the man from Charsadda, to showcase his potential and add healthy competition in the batting department.

Similarly, it is high time for youngsters like Hussain Talat, Asif Ali, Usman Khan Shinwari and Shaheen Afridi to step up and take the responsibility from the shoulders of old guns like Shoaib Malik, Mohammad Hafeez, Sarfraz and Mohammad Amir.

Even though this series has a low stature, for the individuals mentioned above, this is a huge chance to make their mark in the international arena.

2. Opponents are still hard to beat

Zimbabwe has recently announced their squad with experienced campaigners like Sikandar Raza and Brendan Taylor missing out on the series. Despite that, they have enough brilliant individuals who have the ability to turn the tables in their favour.

Some of the names include experienced Elton Chigumbura, Chamu Chibhabha and Hamilton Masakadza. Moreover, Solomon Mire, Malcolm Waller, Peter Moor and Kyle Jarvis have been consistently performing for their side. Zimbabwe recently just fell short of confirming their berth in ODI World Cup 2019, however, they put up a good fight and the above mentioned players were instrumental to that.

Elton Chigumbura slammed an unbeaten 54, Zimbabwe v India, 1st T20I, Harare, June 18, 2016. Photo: AFP

On the other hand, Australians are going through their worst phase. Heavy defeats in England have really pushed their morale down and their stalwarts Steve Smith and David Warner are serving their ban for the Sandpapergate scandal. But in the shortest format rankings, the Aussies are only a spot behind Pakistan, which will ensure a tough competition. Travis Head, Glenn Maxwell, Aaron Finch and Marcus Stoinis are the ones who would carry the burden of batting, while Billy Stanlake, Andrew Tye and Kane Richardson are more than handy with the ball.

If Pakistan comes out on top after this series, they will further consolidate rating points and would maintain their top position, which is a huge incentive for the men in green.

Travis Head played some attractive shots on the way to a 36-ball fifty, England v Australia, 5th ODI, Old Trafford, June 24, 2018. Photo: Getty

Billy Stanlake’s opening burst ripped the stuffing out of England, England v Australia, 5th ODI, Old Trafford, June 24, 2018. Photo: Getty

3. Another opportunity for Sarfraz

Pakistan cricket team’s leader is in dearth of personal form. With the bat or with his gloves on, he is struggling to contribute anything meaningful for the team. Recent games with Scotland provided some redemption for him, but his form in Test and ODI cricket is still questionable. He had a miserable tour (on personal front) in England and Ireland respectively, and cricket pundits criticised him heavily.

With Zimbabwe having problems of their own and a weak Australian side, Sarfraz can take this opportunity to not only silence his critics, but also increase his stature as an individual in the team.

Sarfraz Ahmed had his stumps rattled by James Anderson, England v Pakistan, 2nd Test, Headingley, June 1, 2018. Photo: Getty

4. Surprise addition

After a gap of almost two years, Pakistani ace leg-spinner Yasir Shah has broken through to the ODI lineup. He proved his mettle in Test cricket when he created a record of becoming joint fastest bowler to reach 150 Test wickets. His call-up is surprising as Shadab Khan is performing exceedingly well in limited overs format for the past two years. It will be difficult for Sarfraz to adjust both Shah and Shadab in the playing 11.

Moreover, Asif Ali has also been picked by Inzamamul Haq and company for the ODI side. He hasn’t gotten enough chances in T20s to prove his selection, but the chief selector and coach rate him very highly and consider him important for Pakistan’s future.

Yasir Shah dismissed Dilruwan Perera for a first-ball duck, Pakistan v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Dubai, 4th day, October 9, 2017. Photo: Getty

Shadab Khan celebrates his first wicket in the match, England v Pakistan, 2nd Test, Headingley, June 2, 2018. Photo: Getty

5. Fast-bowling strength

Pakistan missed the services of Junaid Khan in the last ODI series against the Kiwis. He was sensational during the Champions Trophy final and provided key breakthroughs in the middle part of the innings. However, he was struggling with an injury after PSL.

Junaid Khan is chuffed after dismissing Ravindra Jadeja, India v Pakistan, Final, Champions Trophy 2017, The Oval, London, June 18, 2017. Photo: Getty

In the same way, Shinwari was also forcefully dropped from the New Zealand tour due to a back injury. Shinwari stunned the cricket world when he played against Sri Lanka in the UAE and became the third quickest to take a five-wicket haul in an ODI game. He proved to be a great armour alongside Hasan Ali, Amir and Faheem Ashraf.

Usman Khan celebrates a wicket, Pakistan v World XI, 3rd T20I, Lahore, September 15, 2017. Photo: AFP

Therefore, Shinwari and Junaid, with the firepower of Hasan, Amir and Ashraf, will give Pakistan a considerable edge in the competition against the other two sides.

If we look around the batting lineup, Arthur and company could have entrusted the youngsters with this tri-series. Selecting Hafeez and Malik shows that there is still some fear to lose.

Mohammad Hafeez doesn’t hide his disappointment after being dismissed, New Zealand v Pakistan, 2nd ODI, Nelson, January 9, 2018. Photo: Getty

Shoaib Malik is down on one knee as he carves a full-length delivery over cover, Pakistan v Sri Lanka, 3rd T20I, Lahore, October 29, 2017. Photo: Getty

Likewise, Amir could have been given a rest for this tour. Without Amir, there would still be firepower in the bowling line, which can defend or restrict the opposition as needed. Therefore, it is high time to show some trust in our young blood. It is the need of the hour to manage the workload of our senior players in the team and shape a strong bench for the future.

On paper, there aren’t many hiccups for the men in green at the moment, as all three departments are living up to expectations. This tour will most probably help settle down the opening issues Pakistan has had in the past. Having said that, T20 is the most unpredictable format, where one spell and a couple of good overs can change the fate of a team in no time.

Who will come out victorious? We all will have to wait and see from July 1st till July 8th, at the Harare Sports Club.

Abdul Basit Saeed

Abdul Basit Sayeed

The writer is an aspiring chartered accountant. He is a keen and passionate cricket fan and currently lives in Karachi. He tweets @sportingpak (twitter.com/sportingpak)

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