NOW when Pakistan is just one step away from playing the ICC Champions Trophy final after beating Sri Lanka in a dramatic fashion by three wickets at Cardiff on Monday, the order of the day is that both senior and junior players in the team make an extraordinary effort to gel in together and put in their best to beat favourites England in the semi-final on Wednesday.
The performances of most of the seniors including Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik, Ahmed Shehzad, and Wahab Riaz have been uninspiring to say the least while the juniors such as Fakhar Zaman, Hasan Ali, Faheem Ashraf have shown spark and tenacity in doing their job whenever given the chance. But on the other hand, talented youngsters like Babar Azam and Imad Wasim are not playing to their potential.
However, the tough England game calls for the seniors and juniors both to be at their best and play as a cohesive unit to outgun the opposition.
The reason behind the junior players doing well is that they know it is extremely hard in Pakistan cricket for them to cement their places since the selectors, coaches and captains are not brave enough to take bold decisions and give them a longer run to prove their skill and talent.
Several young cricketers have vanished from the Pakistan cricket scene after just one odd tour, few even without getting a single game in a series.
Dashing opener Fakhar Zaman who made his ODI debut against South Africa last week, though, has it in him to go far. And yet, no one from the think-tank had dared to give him another chance after the T20 series against the West Indies played early this year. Though he could not excel in that series, he was quickly discarded when Pakistan met the West Indies in the One-day series.
And when Fakhar was finally given a chance in the Champions Trophy, it was a time when the morale of the team was at the lowest ebb after the 124-run thrashing by India at Edgbaston. How well he has coped with that pressure, and also that of tackling the opposition is for everyone to see.
Moreover, all-rounder Faheem Ashraf, who also toured with the Pakistan team in the West Indies, never got a chance to display his talent there, a fate he shared with orthodox spinner Mohammad Asghar and batsman Asif Zakir who also returned without getting a game in the Caribbean. Faheem made the critics sit up with a dazzlng, match-winning knock against Bangladesh in the team’s first warm-up, snatching a victory from the tigers just when all seemed lost for Pakistan.
And yet, the Pakistan team management did not have the courage to induct Faheem in the India game, or against South Africa for that matter. But when he was finally picked in the last match against the Islanders, he proved that he has the skill to be a genuine all-rounder in the future which the Pakistan team has been lacking for the past many years.
It seems both Faheem and Fakhar will enjoy a longer career, if they remain stable with their technique, fitness and confidence. It is likely that Fakhar will fulfil the vacant place of dashing opener Sharjeel Khan whose career is at the crosssroad after the PSL spot-fixing scam.
Similarly, young pacer Hasan Ali has made rapid strides to become Pakistan bowling spearhead, despite the presence of experienced pacers like Mohammad Amir, Wahab Riaz and Junaid Khan.
It is time for the PCB think-tank to wake up from its deep slumber and realise that ought to open doors on more talented youngsters like Mohammad Asghar, Asif Zakir, Rumman Raees, Usman Salahuddin and others to replace the under performing seniors.
Though Sarfraz Ahmed played a brilliant captain’s knock of 61 to take the game away from Sri Lanka, he too will have to maintain his form with the bat today if Pakistan want to seriously challenge the in-form English team in the semi-final.
So far the England team is the only one side in the competitive tournament which has remained unbeaten, defeating all three rivals in Group ‘A’, including Australia, New Zealand and Bangladesh.
England have a 49-30 victory record against Pakistan in One-day Internationals with two matches yielding no result.
Pakistan beat England in the all-important 1992 World Cup final at Melbourne to annex the coveted title, and at Cardiff today, they have the opportunity to beat the hosts on their own soil and reach the Champions Trophy final.
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