Pakistan were officially knocked out of the 2019 World Cup when Bangladesh scored 8 runs in the second innings of what was the former champions final game of the mega event.
Given how Pakistan were down and out after their 5th game against India — they were 8th in the table — for them to fight till the very end of the tournament is a testament to how well Pakistan recovered in their remaining four games. They won all of them, but that was not enough.
So what’s next for Pakistan? Where do they go from this tournament?
Entering the tournament, Pakistan had the third youngest side at the World Cup with more than half the side having played less than 46 games. These numbers should be an indication as to where Pakistan is headed. There focus from this World Cup should be to give more playing time to this group of youngsters, 9 of the 15 players in the World Cup made their debut after the 2015 edition. Get them more games and make them the core of the Pakistan squad as they prepare for the next World Cup.
Pakistan’s best performers in this tournament were players who were under 25. Twenty-four-year-old Babar Azam was the top run-getter for them and his tally of 474 runs is also the highest by a Pakistani batsman at a World Cup. Pacer Shaheen Shah Afridi, who is just 19, was the second highest wicket taker for Pakistan with 16 scalps in just five games, one behind Mohammed Amir who played all games for Pakistan.
Pakistan’s top three seem good to be the backbone of the batting line-up with Imam Ul Haq (23) and Azam yet to reach their peak as batsmen, while Fakhar Zaman is only 29. There is a great chance that this is the same top three for Pakistan at the next World Cup.
In contrast, the middle order will see some changes with Shoaib Malik retiring from the format and 38-year-old Mohammed Hafeez unlikely to continue for a long time. But Pakistan already have a decent back-up. Rohail Nazir, their under-19 captain, was their top scorer in their series against South Africa under-19. Khushdil Shah is another batsman who could make it to this Pakistan side. He is a hard hitting batsman who was second in the runs list in the Pakistan Cup – Pakistan’s domestic One Day tournament. The most impressive part about him is that he got these runs at 7.8 RPO and Pakistan could do with a hard hitting batsman in the middle order who can up the scoring rate at will.
Spin department the only worry
With Hafeez unlikely to be around for long, Pakistan need to invest more in all-rounders Faheem Ashraf (25) & Hussain Talat (23), who have already played for Pakistan in the past. Both are young and given enough time to prove themselves could be vital for the national side. Ashraf in the PSL has been a big hitter and has been a vital cog for his PSL side with the bat and is also one of the strike bowlers. Talat is a batsman who rotates the strike well and can get the boundaries in the middle overs and once set he can score at a fast clip. Both have a chance to claim a spot in Pakistan’s middle order as all-rounders.
The spin department currently consists of Shadab Khan who is just 20, but he will need more support. Umer Khan who was highly impressive in his debut season for Karachi Kings is one player who should be considered for the national set up. He has shown that he can turn the ball both ways and has the mindset to comeback well after being hit. The spin department does look thin, so the main focus for Pakistan cricket should be to unearth spinners who can support Shadab.
Fast bowling has always been Pakistan’s strong point. And it’s no different even now. Pakistan’s best bowler at the World Cup in terms of average and strike rate was Afridi and he seems to be the true leader of this Pakistan bowling attack. The supply line has Mohammad Musa, Naseem Shah, Mohd Hasnain who are all below 20. The future seems bright for Pakistan in this department.
All the names mentioned above can be given enough playing time to earn experience ahead of the next World Cup with Pakistan looking at the big picture. Since 2002, Pakistan have a losing record against the top 8 sides in the world (except 2011). They have been poor against the best sides in the world for a while now. But with the amount of talent in Pakistan, this side could improve by planning right, reducing the gap in quality between them and established sides.
Pakistan has the talent, they have the leaders of their batting and bowling attack, they have the players to plug the holes in their side. The main question though is will Pakistan plan well enough and make good use of their players and become a good ODI side come the next World Cup? That’s something only time will tell.