Well-meaning it may have been but the outcome of Pakistan's attempt at acclimatization to English conditions was far from what the PCB anticipated. The theory was perfect, as the gameplan consisted of sending players out to England to play a number of warm-up games and a five-match ODI series, well in advance of the 2019 World Cup. The team management were also supposed to benefit from this opportunity as it would allow them a fair crack at establishing their best combination ahead of the main event in the summer.
That was the theory. What happened, in reality, was that Pakistan got thoroughly outplayed by an opponent who consistently batted, bowled and fielded better than them. Apart from the sheer brilliance of their opponents and back-to-back ODI series losses, what really came to light were the weaknesses in Pakistan's preparations ahead of the World Cup.
The bowling, usually considered the crown-jewel of Pakistan cricket, turned out to be their Achilles heel. Unable to make any impressions in the powerplay period or the death overs of the innings, the Pakistan bowling attack looked devoid of ideas and seemed to be powerless to stop the England batsmen scoring at will. Not only was there a lack of planning, but there was also obviously a complete inability of the bowlers to execute whatever plans they had been given by their coaches.
A rookie bowler in the shape of Mohammad Hasnain, who was brought into the side to provide the much-needed express pace to the attack, battled valiantly but ultimately showed his inexperience. But then, even the more experienced Junaid Khan and Yasir Shah failed to impress and were shredded to bits by the English batsmen.
Faheem Ashraf, who has shown so much promise during the early phases of his international career, sadly proved to be cannon fodder in this series. The dire situation of Pakistan's bowling attack has taken such a turn for the worst that Mohammad Amir, who has just about recovered from a bout of chickenpox, is being considered a saviour-in-waiting, even though a few weeks ago he was being cast as a villain for losing his will to perform for his country. Shadab Khan, the ebullient leg-spinner, has also recovered from a viral infection and joined the side in England, but one does wonder about his match-fitness given that he has been out of action since the end of the Pakistan Super League in March.
The farcical and somewhat comical fielding lapses during the ODI series against England are another huge area of concern for Pakistan. Not only were simple chances spilt, but the Pakistani fielders were also guilty of many lapses in the field which added more pressure on the bowlers and the captain. The fact of the matter is that unless this worrying decline in Pakistan's fielding is arrested quickly, the 1992 World Cup winners will find it very difficult to make an impression in the upcoming edition of the ICC tournament.
But then, all is not doom and gloom for Pakistan. The batting, which has long been considered a hopeless pursuit, has suddenly come to the fore during this series. Known for their inability to struggle when asked to score anything above the 250-run mark, the Pakistan batting line-up came up with performances which saw them hit 300+ on three occasions which should bring great hope to Sarfaraz Ahmed and Mickey Arthur. Whether these high scores will mean much given the current state of the incompetence of the bowling attack and the fielding is debatable, but the batting does give Pakistan something to work with as they plan their World Cup campaign.
Meanwhile, England have proved why they are being touted as pre-tournament favourites ahead of the World Cup. Home conditions, a powerful batting unit, athletic, confident, excellent in the field and an abundance of bowling options mean that England will be the team to beat at the World Cup.
The only problem that England's selectors seem to have at the moment is who to leave out of the squad. Their pace-bowlers are looking in good rhythm, bowling with pace and aggression, whilst the batting unit looks formidable with no target looking out of reach or impossible. The combination of whoever they play in their starting eleven looks formidable.
The England top-order continually put the Pakistani bowlers under pressure, targeting any width or erring of length. There was no place to hide for the Pakistani bowlers and England's batting methodology will be giving a few bowlers around the world some sleepless nights.
England's top-order enjoyed a fruitful series, but their middle-order have also enjoyed themselves. The likes of Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler have shown why they are regarded as batsmen who can change the course of any match in the space of a few overs.
England's bowlers have faced some criticism over the number of runs they have conceded but their ability to take wickets at key times will be crucial at the World Cup. In Jofra Archer, they have a bowler who can rip-out any top-order which is important as taking wickets up-front and building pressure in the World Cup will be crucial. With wickets expected to be flat for the World Cup as they were in the series against Pakistan, the team with the X-factor with the ball will be the one that comes good and England have that X-factor in Archer.
Adil Rashid has been entrusted with the task of being England's frontline spinner at the World Cup and during the series against Pakistan he has shown that he is a steady rather than a spectacular foil for England's pace attack. He may be targeted by stronger opponents than Pakistan but Moeen Ali is always someone who can be relied upon with the ball as a back-up to Rashid.
England are confident, well-drilled, aware of their strengths and weaknesses and are playing a brand of cricket that takes risks which on a bad day can come unstuck, but this team is on top of the world and will take some beating at the World Cup.
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