WELLINGTON: Pakistan will take on New Zealand in the third ODI at Dunedin on Saturday, 2-0 down with New Zealand just one more win away from clinching the five-match series. Pakistan had actually come into the series on a nine-match winning streak that started with last year’s Champions Trophy win and was followed up with a 5-0 whitewash of Sri Lanka at UAE in October.
The third match, when you’re two-nil down, is arguably the most challenging of any five-match series. Win, and you’re right back in the series; lose and you’re two dead rubbers away from a whitewash – very few teams that have lost three matches manage to lift themselves up for matchups that would have no bearing on the final result of the series.
One thing in Pakistan’s favour is the four-day gap between the second and third ODI that would allow them to gather their thoughts, work on the obvious shortcomings and get their act together. For there needs to be a complete turnaround in performances for the team’s fortunes to change.
Of course, any cricket revamp needs to start with the batting, which in this case has been completely below par in the first two ODIs.
With the bowling being instrumental in Pakistan’s winning streak in 2017 and the batting making a mark in the Champions Trophy final, the glitches have been brushed under the carpet.
The fact remains that the current Pakistani lineup, similar to their predecessors this decade, cannot score totals in excess of 300 on a regular enough basis to challenge the top ODI sides in the world.
The Champions Trophy was won primarily through the bowling, and when the batting came to the party against India in the final, Pakistan simply looked unbeatable.
This is the bottom-line: a Pakistani side that has the batsmen firing is a formidable force for any team, in any conditions, anywhere in the world.
But that has rarely been true on a consistent enough basis – if ever.
One major problem on this front is that the batsmen never seem to fire together. So in this series alone, we’ve had Fakhar Zaman playing his most impactful innings since the Champions Trophy final, and Mohammed Hafeez scoring a masterful fifty – but in two separate matches.
In fact, in the second – where Hafeez scored his runs – it was Shadab Khan and Hasan Ali who saved Pakistan’s blushes and managed to post an unlikely 246, from 141/7.
Hence, on paper Pakistan can bat all the way down to number 9 – 10 if you include Mohammed Amir, who has scored runs on occasions – but rarely do these come to the forefront in unison.
The batsmen need to come forward with the now clichéd ‘positive’ thinking. You can’t beat this New Zealand side in New Zealand by adopting a defensive plan of action.
Hopefully, Fakhar Zaman would be back for the third ODI and can replicate his form from Wellington. Azhar Ali and Babar Azam would need to score a lot more than the collective 22 they scored in the first two ODIs, while Shoaib Malik can’t afford another unfulfilled start. The pressure is also mounting for Sarfraz Ahmed to come good with the bat.
If Pakistan can post a total of over 300, the bowlers can be banked on to defend it even though they’ve all struggled varyingly in the first two ODIs. Anything between 250 and 300 would need most of the bowlers to be on their A game, while scores of less than 250 would need the freak shows that the Pakistani bowling lineup is capable of.
If Pakistan is chasing, they can no longer afford to treat totals like 315 as mountains they rarely climb or rely on the bowlers to bundle the opposition out for 250. 300 plus/minus 20 is a par score in modern day ODI cricket.
A change in attitude and aura is the need of the hour. Pakistan needs to get under the Kiwis’ skins on Saturday and tell them they won’t give up the series without a fight.
If the team can be at their most aggressive in the third ODI, they might just find a way to claw their way back in the series.