There is absolutely no doubt that the Pakistan cricket team over the years have been at their best when they have possessed an attacking bowling lineup that looks for wickets rather than one that attempts to contain the opposition. Imran Khan's cornered tigers of 1992 possessed a bowling attack that found itself when given the licence to attack and wasn't relying on restricting the opposing batsmen. When Imran told the likes of Wasim Akram, Aaqib Javed and Mushtaq Ahmed to forget about the run-rate and just get him wickets, it produced a Pakistan team that looked a different animal to the team that had started the tournament in Australia and New Zealand.
Twenty-five years later, the Pakistani bowlers in the 50-over format are once again showing the world that attack is the best form of defence even in a format where many captains feel that containment is the key to victory. Opening bursts where the bowlers look for wickets from ball one, the middle overs where Hasan Ali targets the weaknesses of the opponents and then, the formidable teenager Shadab Khan who has more tricks up his sleeve than most magicians. Add to the mix the wily Imad Wasim and the experienced off-spinning duo of Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik and you can see why Pakistan has won its last nine ODIs.
The dazed and confused Pakistan team that embarrassingly lost to India at Edgbaston in the Champions Trophy has been replaced by a confident team that knows and understands its strengths and weaknesses and knows exactly how to execute the game-plans given to them by Mickey Arthur, Azhar Mahmood and Sarfraz Ahmed. What has caused this turnaround? Well, first and foremost, the exuberance of youth has played a key part in this transformation. Babar Azam has been a key performer and he has batted out of his skin and held the batting order together.
Pakistani batting can be volatile at the best of times, but when it has a lynchpin and glue that can hold the rest of the batting together, it can hold its own against any opponent. The fact that this lynchpin is only 23 years old makes it even more remarkable. While Babar has struggled in Test cricket, his credentials in the shorter formats cannot be doubted and he is a batsman Pakistan needed badly.
And while the batting has shown signs of improvement, the bowling has been simply fantastic and breathtaking. Pakistan has bowled out its opponents in seven of the last nine ODIs and in the other two matches, the bowlers dismissed eight opposition batsmen. The variety in the bowling attack has been evident, but what the coaching staff must be pleased about is the consistency and discipline — there wasn't a single no ball in the five-match ODI series against Sri Lanka. Pakistan's current ODI bowling attack has been proclaimed as the best in the world by some and few will argue with that assessment.
Once again it's the youngsters who have led from the front. The catalyst of the bowling attack is Hasan, who at the age of 23 is ranked No 1 in the ICC ODI rankings. What makes this even more incredible is that Hasan only made his ODI debut 14 months ago. Skiddy, quicker than the opponents think, Hasan has that fire in his belly and that aggression that the best pace bowlers possess. He doesn't mind getting in the face of the opposition and if he can wind up the batsmen and lead them into a mistake, then that gives him a degree of satisfaction. Hasan is the leading wicket-taker in ODIs this year and he continues to improve with each passing match and win admirers the world over.
Hasan has been admirably backed up by the southpaws Rumman Raees (26) and Usman Shinwari (23), who tore the heart out of the Sri Lankans in the fifth ODI of the recently-concluded series. Rumman displayed his guile and skills during the series, while Usman relied more on his ability to swing the new ball. In addition, Junaid Khan will not receive the attention of the other bowlers, but he also bowled well during the series. The trio of left-armers showed the world that Mohammad Amir is not the only left-arm pace bowler in Pakistan cricket.
Competition for places breeds better performances and raises standards and that is exactly what Pakistan has at its disposal at the moment. Amir was not missed in the ODI series as others stepped up and grabbed their opportunity. Lesser-known names came to the fore and showed that they can perform when given the opportunity and when required. It will be interesting to see which pacers are persevered with going forward, but the performances of the pace bowlers in the ODIs gives Arthur and Sarfraz a selection headache they will cherish.
And last but certainly by no means least, there's Shadab. At 19, this young man appears as if he has been playing international cricket for many years. Nerves of steel, skills a plenty and talent in abundance, Shadab has taken to international cricket like a duck to water. Ten wickets in the ODI series against Sri Lanka at an economy rate of only 4.17, Shadab is every captain's dream. Just give him the ball and he will torment the batsmen into submission.
Pakistan has had many bowling gems over the years and Shadab is already showing the world that he has all the skills to turn into a superstar.
Good times indeed for Pakistan after the 5-0 whitewash and there were many positives from the series. If the Sri Lanka series is anything to go by, then Pakistan has all the makings of a very useful ODI unit and if they continue improving, they must already be looked at as frontrunners for the 2019 World Cup.