From piercing yorkers to ferocious bouncers, Pakistan’s fast bowling has been filled with stories their fans will never be tired of telling. Over the decades, their bowlers have tormented even the best batting sides in the world. Even when Pakistan's batting lineup failed to perform in matches, their fast bowlers were always a reliable and consistent force.
Where do we stand now?
Since an early exit from the 2019 World Cup, however, Pakistan has been forced to think about who their primary fast bowlers even are.
Mohammed Amir, who had a majority of critics stacked against his selection before the World Cup, has turned out to be Pakistan’s bowling hero since then.
Wahab Riaz – a man whose career had all but been written off after the 2017 Champion’s Trophy, is suddenly looking lethal with his reverse swing. Junaid Khan, who had once seemed crucial to Pakistan’s bowling line-up, is not even among selection considerations now.
Then, of course, there is the curious case of Hasan Ali – the man who rose to the top after the champion’s trophy and has fallen to a mediocre standard since then.
What is the dilemma?
Primarily, the confusion begins with bowlers like Wahab Riaz and Mohammad Hasnain, who possess pace and promise but do not deliver enough.
Since 2016, Riaz averages 53.35 with an economy of 6.31. So, not only is he is falling short in the wickets column, the left-arm speedster is also on the expensive side. Hence, despite the element of his extra pace, Pakistan cannot afford to select a bowler who is consistently leaking runs in the shorter format, given the fragility of their batting line-up.
Hasnain, another promising talent, has also failed to impress when tested on the international stage. Though it would be fair to give him another chance, it does not make much sense to pick him ahead of bowlers like Shinwari or Shaheen.
The same argument can be applied to Hasan Ali and his increasingly worsening statistics. Since 2018, his bowling form makes him more of a liability than an asset in competitive matches.
So, in light of this dilemma, who are the fast bowlers Pakistan would consider central to a winning cause against some of the best batting lineups in the world? Judging from recent performances, these are the top three.
#1 Mohammad Amir
After his world cup heroics, it is difficult to imagine Pakistan willingly dropping Amir from the side any time soon. He picked up 17 wickets in the tournament, at an average of 21.05 and an economy rate of 4.90. Apart from his ability to contain runs, Amir’s early strikes usually sets the tone for Pakistan’s entire bowling attack through their 50 overs. He is at his most lethal when Pakistan wins the toss and chooses to bowl first, averaging just 17.54 in such situations with an economy of 4.60.
In spite of a dip in wicket-taking form, Amir’s economy rate has been good. Even in 2018, the year in which he was averaging over a 100, his economy rate was just 4.31. All in all, he is the guy the captain tosses the ball to when wickets need to be taken without leaking runs, especially towards the end of the innings.
He has been the new ball expert for Pakistan for quite some time now, and will likely be a primary pick for years to come.
#2 Shaheen Shah Afridi
Shaheen Shah Afridi’s performance in ODIs is the reason Pakistan’s selectors have managed to shut the door on Junaid Khan without a second thought.
Averaging 21.17 with 40 wickets from 18 innings, Afridi has made a huge impact. Performing almost equally well against both right and left-handers, he has become a reliable wicket-taking option who does not leak too many runs.
His performances against New Zealand and South Africa, in particular, have been impeccable enough to prove that he can hold his own against some of the top batting lineups as well.
In relative terms, he is also the fourth-highest wicket-taker in ODIs for Pakistan since 2016, despite just having arrived in the latter half of 2018. Unless his performances suffer miserably against Sri Lanka and Australia this year, he will most probably remain a plethal weapon for Pakistan.
#3 Usman Shinwari
Usman Shinwari is the man Pakistan’s selectors have been a little tough on. With 28 wickets from 15 matches, Shinwari averages 19.32, having performed decently against the likes of Australia, South Africa and Sri Lanka.
When Pakistan bowls first, his average goes down further to 18.56 with 23 wickets. He bowls at a good pace and, barring some errors, with a lot of discipline. With Hasan Ali out of form, Shinwari should become an automatic pick, especially against Sri Lanka, the side against which he bowled one of his most incredible spells – five wickets for 34 runs.
With their history of great performances against tough oppositions, these three are bound to be central to Pakistan’s plans, especially against the Aussies later this year. With Amir, Afridi and Shinwari in form, Pakistan has every chance to become the strongest bowling opposition in the world once again.
Also see - Live cricket scorePublished 21 Sep 2019, 08:05 IST