Friday, June 16, 2017

Pakistan's Debutants Rise to the Challenge

When it comes to major cricket tournaments like the ICC World Cup, ICC World T20, and the ICC Champions Trophy teams usually come prepared with a well settled playing XI, with a few reserve players capable of replacing the main ones.

Largely, teams go through these tournaments with the same side.

Not Pakistan.

Pakistan handed ODI debuts to three players during this Champions Trophy, 1 in each of its matches except for the first one against India.

You know how many debuts other teams had during this Champions Trophy? Zero.

Fakhar Zaman - Debut vs South Africa
Fakhar has been a consistent performer in List A cricket and he had an outstanding PSL this year. He is a hard hitting opener and averages over 50 in List A cricket with a strike rate in the mid 90s - just the right type of opener that Pakistan requires and the modern day game demands.

Opening has been a persistent problem for Pakistan for ages. If you look at the openers that Pakistan has had since the World Cup 2015, besides Sharjeel Khan, none of them fit the bill of a modern day ODI opener.

Azhar Ali has the runs to show; however his strike rate needs significant improvement if Pakistan are to stamp their authority on oppositions.

Amidst all this, Fakhar Zaman is a breath of fresh air.

Not only does Fakhar strike the ball at a better rate than all his predecessors (barring Sharjeel), his attacks on South Africa, Sri Lanka, and England have him leading the strike rate chart for openers in this Champions Trophy.

His strike rate of 117.9 is also the highest among all batsmen with a minimum of 100 runs in this champions trophy. In terms of average, 50+ scores, and boundaries he is only behind the Indian duo of Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma.

And this is his debut ODI series! He started of with an enterprising 31 off 23 deliveries against South Africa. He followed that up with a maiden half century as he scored 50 off 36 deliveries against Sri Lanka. He bettered that in the semifinal against England with a 57 off 58 deliveries.

While, Pakistan's bowlers have been magical restricting the oppositions to 200 odd totals, Fakhar Zaman has led the charge with the bat setting up Pakistan's successful chases.

Faheem Ashraf - Debut vs Sri Lanka
Faheem has an impressive domestic record with the ball averaging 26 in First Class cricket and 24 in List A cricket, however it is his late order aggressive batting that he is mostly known for.

There are a number of instances in domestic cricket where he has produced swashbuckling innings lower down the order. He did the same in Pakistan's Champions Trophy warm up match against Bangladesh where he produced a scintillating 64 off only 30 deliveries to guide Pakistan home to an improbable win while chasing 341.

Despite that effort he could not break into the XI against India or South Africa. But he got his chance against Sri Lanka and he did not disappoint.

With the ball he picked up two wickets including the key wicket of Dinesh Chandimal and later with the bat he raced to 17 off 17 deliveries before he was unfortunately run out.

Faheem is the sort of player that Pakistan has not had since Abdul Razzaq. A seamer who can hit big batting lower down the order. Despite these credentials he is finding it difficult to break into Pakistan's first choice XI, which includes two spinners.

For now it seems he will only get a game when Pakistan decide to field 4 seamers; however a few more hard hitting knocks from him and he may replace one of Pakistan's premier seamers.

Rumman Raees - Debut vs England
Rumman flew to England after Wahab Riaz got injured in the match against India, and he got his first ODI match in the semifinal against England after Mohammad Aamer got injured.

A left arm pacer, Rumman's reputation has grown after two successful seasons of the PSL where he has been one of the most economical bowlers. He averages 25 in both First Class and List A cricket, but it is his economy of 3 and 4 respectively that makes him a potent bowler.

Against England he provided Pakistan their first breakthrough when he had Alex Hales caught in the covers. Then he returned for another spell near the end of the innings and picked up another wicket.

A haul of 2-44 in 9 overs on ODI debut in a tournament where teams are smashing everyone around is very impressive.

Yet Rumman is unlikely to walk in to a Pakistan XI when all three of Aamir, Junaid, and Hasan are fit.

Such has been the impact of these debutants that Pakistan find itself spoilt for riches. For a team that has struggled to field an XI that can consistently beat the top nations, Pakistan suddenly finds itself making tough choices to select an XI from a capable pool of 15 players.

Quite a turnaround in fortunes. Pakistan's debutants have surely risen to the challenge and showcased their talent on the global stage.

So much for all the talk about Pakistan's domestic structure not good enough to produce talented cricketers!

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