How Pakistan have developed into a force to be reckoned with in ODIs
Not so long ago, Pakistan's participation in the Champions Trophy 2017 was in jeopardy. So poor was their ODI form that they were on the verge of not qualifying to play in the tournament. Last minute cancellation of a series against Zimbabwe was made fearing their possible exclusion if their performance in that series went awry.
But anything can happen in the game of cricket.
Ranked eighth in ICC World Rankings for ODI's, Pakistan were crushed by a rampant Indian side in their opening game. However, they didn't just throw the towel in. There were some tough hard talks among the group and a commitment to give their best. They scraped their way against South Africa, before miraculously huffing and puffing over the line against a hapless Sri Lankan side.
Against England they hit their straps in the semi-finals to make excellent use of the slow-dry pitch at Cardiff, sending the home team packing. Come the final against arch-rivals India, they rode on Fakhar Zaman's century and crucial contributions by Azhar Ali and Hafeez to post a mighty 300+ total on board. The pressure of a huge target, that too in a final, proved to be too much for the Indian batting order as Amir ripped through the top order early on, followed by a clinical bowling performance by the rest of the pack to wrap up the match.
This recent growth of Pakistan has been delightful to watch from a cricketing perspective. They have had to make some tough decisions and selections to achieve this.
Under head coach Mickey Arthur, Pakistan has employed a no-nonsense approach towards fitness and fielding. They don't hesitate before excluding a player if he fails the fitness test. Imad Wasim, who played a crucial role as a spinning allrounder in the limited-overs side, was recently dropped from the Asia Cup squad when he failed to clear the yo-yo test. Players such as Umar Akmal and Ahmed Shehzad were left out due to poor behaviour and form.
Also, lots of youngsters putting in impressive performances in the PSL have been rewarded with call-ups to the national squad. Fakhar Zaman, Shadab Khan, Faheem Ashraf are products of the league and have established themselves at the international level already. Others such as Shaheen Afridi and Asif Ali are also coming through the ranks. Asif Ali, in particular, has impressed in his limited chances as a lower order biffer.
Yes, there have been claims that their victories recently have come against weaker oppositions such as Zimbabwe or Sri Lanka. But scheduling isn't in their hands is it? Performing is - and they well and truly are doing so.