Pakistan need to get back on the horse and return to winning ways as the crescendo builds up for the biggest cricket carnival. Ten defeats on the trot have pushed the panic button or may have jammed it after the embarrassing defeat in the warm-up game against Afghanistan.
Everything is falling in the right place for England. They are rated by many as favourites to clinch their first 50-over World Cup title. They have registered an emphatic performance of late, winning the ODI series against Pakistan comprehensively by a 4-0 margin. Pakistan must be feeling deflated after the hammering but to their credit, they have been competitive in the series and not far from delivering the goods.
Can Pakistan come out of this epic slump in form and rise to the occasion? They have flummoxed us before in the 2017 Champions Trophy where the expectations were rock bottom but out of nowhere, they dazzled the cricketing world with their mercurialness and bounced back after nosediving. However, resurging again in a similar fashion seems a stretch of the imagination considering the bowling woes and the comeback of round-robin format in which each of the 10 teams will lock horns once with every other team.
Earlier, the viruses rallied to stall our plans as Mohammad Amir and Shadab Khan were recovering from illnesses during the England tour. A few players aren't 100 percent fit to play at their optimum levels as Imad Wasim's fitness under scrutiny and Mohammad Hafeez is coming back after recovering from an injury blow to his bowling hand. The batting unit is still ticking the boxes but it is the bowlers that we Pakistanis yearn to see rattling the stumps and perform well on decks that are conducive for batting.
Imam-ul-Haq was a bright spot on the England tour as he seems to be growing in confidence and had a wonderful outing: accumulating 151 runs to help Pakistan post a mammoth total of 358 in the third ODI at Bristol. Fakhar Zaman got some runs under his belt and will provide the impetus early on in the batting powerplay.
Pakistan have made some late adjustments in the squad and roped in Wahab Riaz out of the wilderness straight into the World Cup squad. His ability to dart in heat-seeking yorkers and extract reverse swing is still intact. The short pitch stuff against Shane Watson is entrenched in our memories and he has vowed to maintain the same intensity in this World Cup. The glimpse of his prowess was apparent in the last few overs of the warm-up game against a vivacious Afghanistan side in which he managed to get three strikes and created panic in the opposition ranks. His selection was a popular decision given the mounting pressure in the aftermath of England series where bowlers seemed out of sorts. Shaheen Shah Afridi was taken to the cleaners during the warm-up game as Hazratullah Zazai smoked him for five boundaries in an over and the rookie Mohammad Hasnain is still finding his feet at the apex level of cricket.
Although Amir missed the recent audition-series, he has been inducted in the final 15 as the selection committee reverted to experience in the pace department. Fans are longing for him to rekindle the old days and hoping he will get prized scalps in the bowling powerplay to stymie the momentum.
Bereaved Asif Ali’s inclusion is pivotal to the cause of Pakistan as there has been a dearth of reliable hard hitting batsmen in the lower middle order. He will be joining the World Cup team on the back of some good form after smashing two half-centuries at an impressive strike rate, providing much-needed acceleration in the death overs during the England tour.
Babar Azam has been consistently smashing tons albeit at a slower strike rate and so the one-dimensional aspect of Pakistan middle order demands him to keep the dots on the lower side. Haris Sohail, the technician, has looked rock solid and so Pakistan's batting worries seem to be warded off.
Another worry for Pakistan is their ragged fielding that has been evident post-Steve Rixon tenure as there were quite a few opportunities grassed against England. They will have to tidy up this crucial facet of the game to stay in the hunt. Shadab is back and will be leading the fielding unit, inspiring his teammates to hold onto the skiers and avoid plopping chances under pressure.
Pakistan will have to break the longest losing streak when they will meet resurging West Indies in their World Cup opener on Friday, May 31. And their choice of final XI and the output of the game will go a long way in shaping their campaign.