When you think about nearly men at ICC events, the perennial dark horses New Zealand come to mind. But ever since the retirement of Brendon McCullum, it hasn’t looked the same for New Zealand, losing its attacking brand of play which was ever so evident in the rise of New Zealand cricket under BMac. The middle order has failed to cement itself with none of the players turning in consistent performances with players like Ross Taylor, Corey Anderson, Jimmy Neesham and Colin Munro not being able to play to their potential. With them being placed in a group with hosts and tournament favourites, England and another strong team, Australia it is hard to see them qualifying for the semi-finals of the tournament.
With attention shifting from group A to group B, one cannot ignore the mercurial presence of Pakistan in a group with a weakened Sri Lankan team stuck in a transition phase, an Indian team who are coming on the back of a long home season followed by the gruelling schedule of IPL and South Africa who come along with a tag of being chokers in such tournaments no matter how strong their team may be. Pakistan are, by no means, devoid of weaknesses, they always come in to the tournament with probably the best bowling attack only to be let down by their fielding and batting performances.
It looks like the same story this time around but ever since the appointment of the street-smart batsman/wicketkeeper Sarfaraz Ahmed as the captain, the team looks much more tactically equipped on field and display an attacking style of play. Under his captaincy, Pakistan have won 7 T20Is of 8 played and have won 3 of 4 ODIs they’ve played. The top order is filled with attacking and anchoring batsmen with the likes of Ahmed Shehzad, Azhar Ali, Babar Azam and Mohammad Hafeez being in the squad. Shoaib Malik and Sarfaraz Ahmed make up for a good finishing pair for the team.
The bowling unit looks top drawer with Mohammad Amir, Wahab Riaz, Junaid Khan, Hasan Ali and Imad Wasim being first picks for the playing XI. With swinging conditions in England Mohammad Amir and Junaid Khan can be lethal with the new ball. Hasan Ali has emerged as a great prospect for the team as a fast-medium bowler with great accuracy and control on his cutters and variations. Wahab Riaz provides sheer pace and the ability to produce mind numbing spells like the one in the 2015 World Cup quarter final against Australia as he absolutely peppered Shane Watson with a barrage of well-directed short balls. With him and Amir being no mugs with the bat, it adds to the batting depth of the team.
Pakistan enjoy a much better record against India in Champions Trophy than they do in the World Cups and will look to maintain it in their opening game against the same opposition on June 4. A good start will mean a lot for every team in the short group stage with just three matches to be played.