Pakistan, Asia Cup 2018, Squad, Shaheen Afridi
PCB named 16-member squad for the 14th edition of Asia Cup. (credits - Getty)

With the Asia Cup 2018 just around the corner, the stakes are high for all the teams. Pakistan, in particular, will enter the tournament as one of the favourites for the prestigious title. Having last won the title in 2014 in Bangladesh under the leadership of Sarfaraz Ahmed, a golden opportunity lies in store for the winners of the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy.

Traditionally a side that is known to blow hot and cold, it is this unpredictable nature of the men in green, which is their biggest strength, as well as weakness. The ICC Champions Trophy last year in England was a classic testimony of the above statement.

Post getting decimated by India in their campaign opener at Birmingham, it looked like a rejuvenated Pakistan had come ashore. The side went on to win all its remaining games and in the final, a special performance against India sealed a memorable title win the for the team.

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Pakistan Cricket Team, Asia Cup 2018
Pakistan beat India in the finale of the Champions Trophy 2017. Image Courtesy: Getty

The winners of the 1992 World Cup haven’t played a lot of cricket since then and it needs to be seen how does Sarfaraz Ahmed’s unit deal under expectations and without the tag of the underdogs in the upcoming Asia Cup 2018.

IMPROVED BATTING:

A team that was often highly trolled for its dismal shows with the bat has colossally enhanced since the presence of Mickey Arthur as the coach. There has been far greater discipline and application by the Pakistani batsmen in the last few years. The presence of individuals like Fakhar Zaman and Babar Azam at the top has added to the much-needed stability.

The two young individuals have named several batting records to themselves, with the southpaw, Zaman recently entering the elusive 200-club against Zimbabwe. Azam, on the other hand, has been a rock at number three, steadying the ship and notching up impressive scores for himself.

Fakhar Zaman, Asia Cup 2018
Pakistan’s Fakhar Zaman completed a double hundred against Zimbabwe in August. Image Courtesy: Getty

The experience of Shoaib Malik since his comeback post the 2015 World Cup, has added the panache to the side. An individual who can up the ante when needed, Malik, a veteran now, has been in sparkling form for the team. He, along with skipper Sarfraz Ahmed remains the spine of the Pakistani middle-order.

STRENGTHS:

When one talks about Pakistan’s strengths, it’s a no brainer to state the side’s bowling. A unit that can boast of uprooting the best in any condition, remains an ultimate threat to all other opponents. Ask India, of how their famed batting lineup was ravaged by Pakistan in the ICC Champions Trophy final.

Mohammad Amir, Junaid Khan and Hasan Ali are genuine wicket-takers who rely mainly on their accuracy and hostility for wickets. Even on the flattest of decks of the UAE, the trio poses a specific danger to the batsmen.

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Ali, in particular, has been the trump card, as the right-arm pacer has been integral in taking wickets in the all important middle overs. The Man of the Series of the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy, can generate troubling reverse swing and this remains his biggest strength.

Hasan Ali, Asia Cup 2018
Pakistani cricketer Hasan Ali would be a trump card for his side. Image Courtesy: Getty

From the spin front as well, things are more or less well settled. Leg spinner, Shadab Khan, takes wickets for fun and is quite similar to his Indian counterpart, Yuzvendra Chahal. Shadab at such a young age has gained a terrific reputation for himself as a wicket taker.

For a company in the spin department, he has the all round skills of Shoaib Malik and Haris Sohail, as the two individuals can chip in with a few overs.

WEAKNESS:

One noticeable weakness for this side remains in the power hitting front. Very few individuals in this team can go boom boom from the very first ball. Even though the Pakistan Super League (PSL) has provided the team with an ocean of talent, the hitting department looks a tad underwhelming. The presence of all-rounder, Fahim Ashraf surely counts, but the consistency of the side as a whole as a batting unit is still under the caution, and this will be crucial in the Asia Cup 2018.

It must be noted the much celebrated Fakhar Zaman was exposed to the testing conditions in New Zealand, when Pakistan was beaten 5-0. Against quality bowling, there are certain question marks as to how the Pakistani unit will perform.

SURPRISE SELECTIONS / OMISSIONS:

The exclusion of Mohammad Hafeez was a little shocking, as the all-rounder despite being on the wrong side of 30, is a genuine match-winner. On the slow pitches of the UAE, his bowling would have been handy and he could have been the ideal finisher needed for the team.

Mohammad Hafeez, Asia Cup 2018
Mohammad Hafeez was left out of Pakistan’s Asia Cup 2018 squad. Image Courtesy: Getty

Shan Masood’s selection is another interesting story, as the left-hander is often perceived as a Test specialist. Nevertheless, an impressive performance in the List A season saw him earn a call-up for the multination tournament.

RECENT FORM:

The last three series’ for Pakistan had been extremely contradictory. A 5-0 whitewash victory over Sri Lanka in the UAE was followed with a nightmare tour of New Zealand. The side lost by a similar margin as the batting time and again let the team down in the testing conditions. Recently, the Sarfraz Ahmed-led side decimated Zimbabwe 5-0.

THE VERDICT:

In all, this is the strongest possible Pakistan side in the last five years or so. There seems to be a clear presence of youth, experience, energy and enthusiasm in the team. One can expect this vibrant outfit to do exceedingly well in the Asia Cup 2018.

A showdown with India is more than likely given the talent this team has right now. A win per cent of 70.8 under the leadership of Sarfraz Ahmed is another testimony of the fact that this team means business in the Asia Cup 2018.

LIKELY XI:

Fakhar Zaman 2. Imam Ul Haq 3. Babar Azam 4. Haris Sohail 5. Shoaib Malik 6. Sarfaraz Ahmed ( c ) (wk) 7. Faheem Ashraf 8. Shadab Khan 9. Mohammad Amir 10. Hassan Ali 11. Junaid Khan

Krishna Chopra

A cricket buff who lives the game fully. A die hard supporter of the Indian cricket Team. Sachin Tendulkar remains my inspiration.