A lot has changed since Pakistan and India played their last ODI more than two years ago.
India’s core largely remains the same with five changes to the squad from the one that faced Pakistan in the 2015 World Cup. Pakistan, on the other hand, have gone for a complete reboot in their quest for finding their feet in modern-day limited overs cricket.
Wicket-keeper batsman Sarfraz Ahmed is in charge of a new-look team with only four survivors from the 2015 World Cup squad.
Here is a primer on the new kids on the block for Pakistan:
Babar Azam is another one out of the Akmal clan. Cousin to Test cricketers Kamran, Umar and Adnan, Azam has made his way through Pakistan’s age-group cricket structure. He is one of the rare young Pakistani cricketers who made their debut on home soil, playing against Zimbabwe in front of a packed house in May 2015.
Azam’s start in international cricket has been nothing short of phenomenal. He has racked up 1,322 runs in 26 ODIs at an average of 55.08. More importantly, his strike rate of 90 provides a breath of fresh air for a Pakistani batting order stuck in a decade-old run-scoring formula. The West Indies seem to be his favorite opposition – he now has hundreds in six games against them – but he has done enough in Australia, England and New Zealand to demand respect from the opposition. Pakistani fans will know better than to get ahead of themselves. Azam’s cousin and Pakistan cricket’s problem child, Umar Akmal, was the last exciting batting prospect to come up and we all know how he has fared.
A comparison between Pakistan and India’s pace bowling is an indictment of Pakistan cricket’s declining quality. Hasan, however, has bolstered the stocks. The 23-year-old pacer first got noticed bowling for Peshawar Zalmi in the inaugural season of the Pakistan Super League (PSL). Hasan toured England last year and so the conditions are not exactly alien to him.
Since his debut in August 2016, he has picked up 29 wickets placing him at number four in terms of number of wickets taken. He also adds value as a fielder and is a certain starter for the 4 June clash against India.
Should Mohammad Amir find his swing mojo, together with Hasan, he can trouble the Indian batsmen.
Swansea-born Imad Wasim is a slow left-arm orthodox bowler who can hit out in the lower order as well. Wasim captained Pakistan at the 2008 Under-19 World Cup, the one Virat Kohli led India to victory at. Like Azam, he is another player who has made his way through the age-group structure in Pakistan. He doesn’t spin the ball at all but his exploits in the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) and for Pakistan have shown that his variations can be tough to pick. He has also shown a knack to give it back to the opposition players but needs to be wary of backing it up with solid performances.
The latest spin sensation from Pakistan is 18-year-old leg spinner Shadab Khan. He impressed the likes of Dean Jones and Wasim Akram in the Islamabad United set-up before going on to represent Pakistan in all three formats during the tour of West Indies. He was also Man of the Series in the three-match T20 series. Pakistan’s reliance on all-rounders Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik and Imad Wasim indicates that Shadab is unlikely to play. He toured England last year with the A side and will draw from that experience should he get a chance in the Champions Trophy.
Fakhar Zaman is a left-handed top order batsman who has proven himself as a modern opening batsman in domestic cricket. Zaman, 27, hails from Mardan – hometown of Pakistan batting legend Younis Khan. He recently gained valuable captaincy experience leading the Balochistan side in the five-team Pakistan Cup. He was also the tournament’s fourth-highest run-scorer and has been on the radar for a while now. The 27-year-old wasn’t exactly a standout performer for Lahore Qalandars in the PSL but he did enough to impress the selectors, making his T20I debut against the West Indies.
A washed out warm-up match against Australia means Zaman will probably sit the opening game out and perhaps the remaining two as well. An injury to Azhar Ali or Ahmed Shehzad, though, may well give Zaman the chance of his life.
He was an unknown player till the last nine overs of Pakistan’s warm-up match against Bangladesh. Coming in with the team needing exactly 100 runs from 57 balls, Ashraf unleashed a display of power-hitting that Pakistan have long yearned for. His 30-ball 64 provided Pakistan with a victory that skipper Sarfraz termed a “morale-booster” for his side.
Ashraf is a right-arm medium pacer and left-handed lower order batsman. His domestic numbers don’t tell a lot but he impressed the selectors with his hitting and bowling during this year’s Pakistan Cup. Earlier in the year, he also showed maturity in seeing Habib Bank, his domestic side, home in a tricky chase in the final of the one day tournament for departments.
Ashraf’s batting exploits are sure to land him a place in the starting eleven. Although he has bowled with the new ball in domestic cricket, he is likely to be the fourth pacer who adds much-needed power-hitting to Pakistan’s batting order.