The 2014-2015 period was arguably the lowest point of Pakistan’s ODI history. They lost five consecutive bilateral series, including a three-zip defeat at the hands of Bangladesh who had not won a single match against Pakistan in any format since becoming a Test side. Following the annual rankings update on 1 May 2015, Pakistan dropped to their worst-ever number nine position and with that their participation in the Champions Trophy 2017 was put in serious jeopardy.
The year 2015 also marked the end of the careers of Shahid Afridi and Saeed Ajmal, their two biggest game-changers and match-winners in the post-Shoaib Akhtar era. Pakistan just didn’t have the players to meet the modern demands of the limited overs cricket, and the future looked bleak.
In a bid to rebuild the team and hunt new players for 50 overs cricket, Pakistan immediately needed a new one-day tournament, so the PCB converted the old and irregular Pentangular One Cup into Pakistan Cup in 2016 and marketed it as the country’s premier 50 overs tournament. Pakistan Cup’s birth was more of happened-by-chance thing than a planned one. Nevermind, it turned out to be a productive move.
Many players who are considered as products of the Pakistan Super League were actually first spotted in the Pakistan Cup. Shadab Khan, who has largely been considered a find of the PSL, first showed the glimpses of his talent in the maiden Pakistan Cup in Faisalabad in 2016 where he played for Islamabad under Misbah-ul-Haq’s captaincy and in his very first match scored a match-winning 33 in an intense chase. It was there Misbah earmarked him for PSL.
The first Pakistan Cup also brought Fakhar Zaman to the fore. His 397 runs at an average of 59.40 and strike rate 90.27, including a match-winning 115 for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the final, convinced selectors he was one for the future. Faheem Ashraf, who is likely to become a Test cricketer in a week’s time, earned his maiden Pakistan call-up on the back of eight wickets in four games in Pakistan Cup in Rawalpindi in 2017. Mohammad Amir’s first notable performance in 50 overs cricket after the comeback also came in the tournament’s first edition which he finished as the joint-leading wicket taker with 11 scalps at 13.54.
A commendable aspect of the recent Pakistan Cup played in Faisalabad was the standard of the pitches that has been under scrutiny for many seasons, especially in the first-class cricket. Due to poor pitches in the recent Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, five games were ended within two days, and on 25 occasions teams were bowled out for less than hundred but the batting strips in the one-day cricket this season, including the regional one-day tournament in January, have been totally opposite to four-day cricket.
The average first innings total in the recently concluded Pakistan Cup was 308, the highest for any premier one-day competition in the world in 2017 and 2017/18. Two teams – Punjab and Balochistan – successfully chased a target in excess of 350 whereas 15 centuries were scored by the batsmen.
The run-fests in Pakistan Cup might appear to be an imbalance between bat and ball, but that is how ODIs are being played these days. The List A cricket should be an opportunity for batsmen to learn to score at a brisk pace and for bowlers to develop pace and variations and ascertain how to survive. It is not a coincidence that the teams at the bottom of the table above are the same teams in the lower tier of the ICC ODI Rankings. Though Pakistan are still at six in the rankings, this month they gained six valuable points after the annual update and are now just two points adrift from the number five ranked Australia. Surely an improvement for Pakistan considering a year ago they were facing a threat of missing the direct World Cup qualification.
The first edition of the PSL also played a role in building Pakistan Cup. After the success of the PSL in the UAE, PCB wanted to have a similar tournament for 50 overs cricket with improved salaries and better facilities for players. Although the money on offer is still less compared to the international standards, it is a welcome change for the non-international cricketers.
The players have also been provided with better facilities – a case in point is Shrey’s helmets, a gear that many budding cricketers cannot afford to buy. The PSL was created to bring back cricket to the country and generate extra revenue, but Pakistan Cup’s main purpose was to nurture and find players and meliorate the standard of the one-day cricket in the country. The three successful PSLs and Pakistan Cups have shown that Pakistan’s limited overs cricket is on the right track.