The Pakistan cricket team is renowned for its unpredictability, and former England captain Nasser Hussain succinctly captured this trait when he said, “One minute down, the next minute up.” This statement was made during the 2017 Champions Trophy final, where Pakistan staged a miraculous comeback to win their first ICC event in eight years. It illustrates why it’s challenging to label Pakistan as favorites or underdogs in major tournaments.
As the 13th edition of the ICC World Cup approaches, scheduled to begin on October 6th with Pakistan facing the Netherlands in Hyderabad, the team’s enigmatic nature continues to prevail. Pakistan has a history of achieving remarkable turnarounds, exemplified by their 1992 World Cup and 2017 Champions Trophy victories, where they fought like “Cornered Tigers” in dire situations.
However, Pakistan has also experienced early eliminations, such as the 2003 World Cup, despite boasting legendary players like Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Saeed Anwar, and Inzamam-ul-Haq. They’ve been routed when expected to win, as seen in the 1996 quarter-final against India and the 1999 final against Australia.
Regardless of the outcome, the Pakistan cricket team consistently provides entertainment and takes fans on an emotional roller-coaster ride. This unpredictability is expected to persist in the 2023 World Cup, whether they secure a top-four finish or not.
Pakistan’s historical success in cricket has been attributed to their formidable bowling department, particularly their pace bowlers. Despite the absence of Naseem Shah due to injury, Pakistan retains a potent attack capable of dismantling top batting lineups, including India’s led by Rohit Sharma. Key bowlers like Shaheen Afridi and Haris Rauf, along with the leg-spin expertise of Shadab Khan, provide a well-rounded attack.
Pakistan’s middle-order, featuring Mohammad Rizwan and Iftikhar Ahmed, has displayed the ability to form match-saving partnerships. Iftikhar, in particular, is known for his aggressive batting at No. 6, complemented by Shadab’s all-round capabilities, which bolster Pakistan’s batting lineup.
Despite a strong top three and a reliable middle-order, Pakistan has a history of collapsing under pressure, especially in challenging chases. Recent examples include their collapse against India in the Super Four clash during the Asia Cup, where they were bowled out for 128 while chasing 357.
Pakistan’s weakness is exacerbated by the lack of a quality second spinner in their lineup. In a tournament where spin is expected to play a significant role, the performance of Mohammad Nawaz as the second spinner will be closely scrutinized.
Babar Azam is expected to play a crucial role in Pakistan’s campaign. While their bowling department is strong, the performance of key batsmen in high-pressure situations, especially in do-or-die matches, could determine their success. Babar, a modern-day batting great, is known for his prowess in subcontinental conditions, which closely resemble the wickets in India. Despite recent form fluctuations, he could be instrumental in leading from the front and guiding Pakistan to victory.
Squad Changes Since 2019 World Cup:
Pakistan has undergone significant changes since the 2019 World Cup. Sarfaraz Ahmed, the former captain, has been gradually phased out of leadership roles, with Babar Azam taking over captaincy across formats. Rizwan has assumed the wicketkeeping duties and has become an integral part of the team.
Veterans like Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik are no longer in the squad. Shoaib Malik retired from ODIs after the 2019 World Cup but remains available for T20Is. Hafeez retired from all formats in early 2022.
Bowlers Wahab Riaz and Mohammad Amir have also retired from international cricket after losing their places in the side.