Pakistan managed to win 3 ODI series against Afghanistan 3–0. Played at Sri Lanka, this was considered hosted by Afghanistan. With this result, Pakistan climbed at the top of ODI ranking. Statistically, this is a clean sweep. However, the manner in which this win was attained has raised certain questions regarding batting display and strategy adopted by Pakistan. There is no doubt that the result is owed to brilliant performance of Pakistan bowling but in view of Asia Cup in next few days and later the World Cup in India, let’s have a review of Pakistan’s performance to see if we can draw few conclusions.
Pak Vs Sri Lanka – Test Series
While the eyes of world cricket were mainly fixed on the historic Ashes 2023 and its thrilling culmination, Pakistan quietly but emphatically beat Sri Lanka in their backyard 2–0. Credit must be given where it is due. Pakistan played very well in the longest format and outclassed their rivals not only in all departments of the game but team spirit as well. Their stride was confident and body language positive. They were well led and seemed determined and purposeful.
Pakistan won the first Test by 4 wickets. Though the match was mostly dominated by Pakistan, they had some anxious moments in the second innings as their top-order batters generally failed to comfortably chase a modest target. The best performance was Saud Shakeel’s brilliant double century. The match basically belonged to Pakistani bowlers. They stuck to their tasks and did not let their opponents settle down. They made breakthroughs at crucial points and restricted Sri Lanka from making any imposing total. Pakistan’s top order failed to click in both innings and their blushes were saved by Saud, Salman and Imam. For a change, Pakistan fielded well and did not make too many blunders.
Pakistan fully dominated the 2nd Test and defeated Sri Lanka by an innings and 222 runs. Once again, Pakistan’s versatile bowling attack performed admirably and did not let Sri Lanka cross 200 run mark in either innings. This time it was Abdullah Shafiq who scored a magnificent double century while Shan Masood, Saud Shakeel and Agha Salman made useful contributions.
ODI Series Vs Afghanistan
1st ODI – 22 August
Pakistan were all out in 48th over as they scrapped to a total of 201 runs. Granted that Afghanistan have some good spinners in white-ball format, Pakistan’s formidable batting lineup was tied down by all the Afghan bowlers. Only Imam-ul-Haq, Shadab and Iftikhar made any useful contribution. While Afghanistan must have fancied their chances of winning the match, Pakistani bowlers had other plans. Led by Haris Rauf’s 5-wicket haul, Afghanistan were bundled out in 20th over at a score of 59.
2nd ODI – 24 August
Afghanistan made 300/5 in their allotted 50 overs. Highlights of their innings included 227 runs opening stand and a 151 runs innings in as many balls by Gurbaz. Pakistan started off well and were comfortably 176/3 in 33 overs, when they started losing wickets rapidly. Only late heroics of Shadab Khan and last over cameo by Nasim Shah saved Pakistan’s blues to the heartbreak of Afghanistan. Pakistan winning by one-wicket with one ball left.
3rd ODI – 26th August
Pakistan won the toss and elected to bat first. They were slow coming out of their bunkers and even experienced duo of Babar Azam and Rizwan found the going tough. They managed to reach 268 through some later overs hitting. Once again, Pakistan bowling displayed depth and resolve. Faheem Ashraf, M. Wasim and Nawaz were brought in place of Haris Rauf, Nasim Shah and Usama Mir. Pakistani bowlers tied up Afghan batters and only a late order flurry by Mujeeb enabled them to cross 200 runs. Pakistan winning by 59 runs.
- Imam-ul-Haq and Babar Azam with two scores each of above 50 were the note-worthy batting performers.
- Pakistan did not post a worthwhile opening stand in either of the ODIs.
- Pakistan bowling attack showed depth and variety. Nasim Shah is especially bowling very well. Shaheen and Rauf also bowled well and so did the experienced spinners Shadab and Nawaz.
- Haris Rauf and Faheem Ashraf made good comebacks after breaks.
- Rizwan was off-color; though he made useful runs in the 3rd ODI but for Pakistan’s sake, he needs to come into his own element soonest.
- Pakistan batting has a number of brilliant batsmen but they need to build up partnerships. Such performance will not hold while playing against top-tier teams.
- Careful team selection and refined strategies according to situation need to be given more consideration by team management and Captain Babar Azam.
- Babar Azam has matured further. He was always a gifted and confident player but his style of leadership has further improved. He is more confident and easy in his role. He is the only batter currently to be in top 5 ranking in all formats of the game. He holds the top spot in ODIs since June 22. His continued good form will be crucial for the health of Pakistan’s scorecard. We are too quick and keen to compare and draw parallels for the sake of ranking one above the other. While the rankings according to performance of current players do serve some purposes, there’s no point in comparing them according to only statistical data. Of course the career data reflects the achievements of the player, but like flowers, each great player holds a separate style and impact, only one thing is common, their stellar performances have, and will continue to warm the hearts of cricket lovers.