Pakistan have a proverbial mountain to climb ahead of their crucial ICC Cricket World Cup match against Australia as they battle a viral infection that has gripped several members of the squad and look to pick themselves up after another big loss against rivals India.
Babar Azam and his men face the five-time champions Australia on Friday, with star fast bowler Shaheen Shah Afridi struggling for form and opening batter Abdullah Shafique weakened by a fever.
Both Shafique and Afridi rejoined the team in practice at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru on Wednesday and are available for selection, but questions remain over the 1992 champions’ form going into their fourth match of the tournament.
Pakistan won their opening two matches in contrasting style but were handed a seven-wicket loss at the massive Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad last week, where they were subjected to hostile behaviour by the partisan crowd.
The Pakistan Cricket Board has lodged a complaint with the International Cricket Council over “inappropriate conduct” towards its players during the match.
Azam was booed at the toss while video on social media appeared to show several Pakistan players including Mohammad Rizwan being abused by Indian fans.
The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has lodged another formal protest with the ICC over delays in visas for Pakistani journalists and the absence of a visa policy for Pakistan fans for the ongoing World Cup 2023.
The PCB has also filed a complaint regarding inappropriate conduct…
— PCB Media (@TheRealPCBMedia) October 17, 2023
The team is now back in the southern part of India, where they will play their remaining seven matches and will hope to garner similar support to their two wins in Hyderabad.
The Hyderabad crowd cheered when Shafique and Rizwan scored centuries in Pakistan’s record run chase of 345-4 against Sri Lanka.
“Win or lose is part of the game,” said Rizwan, who has scored 248 in three innings.
“We have lost to India, but if you see we had also won two matches. We have to match our skills with our game awareness … we can’t say we are behind the world.”
Pakistan’s bowling ‘lacks discipline’
Azam, the number-one-ranked batter in one-day-international (ODI) cricket, is yet to get his momentum in the tournament. But more than batting it’s the bowlers who haven’t yet got into any sort of rhythm against good batting sides.
Afridi has struggled to pick up early wickets, while Haris Rauf and Hasan Ali have performed in patches. Spinners Shadab Khan and Mohammad Nawaz struggled to give Pakistan breakthroughs in the middle overs.
Pakistan legend Waqar Younis advised Afridi to learn from India seamer Jasprit Bumrah if he wants to make an impact at the World Cup.
Afridi is struggling with his pace and fitness and has been unimpressive in all three games at the World Cup where his four wickets have come at a cost of 139 runs.
“I don’t know if there is a problem with his fitness,” Waqar said after the loss against India.
“The missing link in his bowling is discipline and he is over trying to get wickets.
“When you do the same thing again and again, like Shaheen is bowling to get his yorker going, then batsmen know that and they are ready for it.”
Waqar said Pakistan’s bowling “lacks discipline” at the World Cup where three games have yielded two wins and one loss.
But Rizwan has backed his bowlers to come good.
“Everyone is saying we are unpredictable but I believe we have the world’s top bowlers,” Rizwan said.
Facing resurgent Australia
Pakistan and Australia have met on 10 occasions, and while Pakistan have won four matches, the losses inflicted by Australia have been big and impactful.
Australia began their resurgence in the tournament by bundling out Pakistan for 132 in the 1999 Cricket World Cup final at Lord’s Cricket Ground. They chased the target in 29.5 overs for the loss of two wickets.
They also beat Pakistan in the 2015 tournament en route to winning the title at home and in 2019 once again, their sixth Cricket World Cup win over the team in green.
Australia will look to build on their first win of the tournament.
But to set Australia firmly back in contention, they need the established top-order batters to get going with the likes of David Warner and Steven Smith taking more responsibility.
Warner has scores of 41, 13 and 11 in three games while Smith has scored 65 in three knocks that included a duck against Sri Lanka.
Australia captain Pat Cummins managed to get just one wicket in the first two matches, prompting former skipper Michael Clarke to predict on domestic radio that Cummins was set to sit on the bench in the game against Sri Lanka.
But the captain responded by taking two vital wickets against Sri Lanka before Adam Zampa spun the team to a five-wicket win.
Pakistan have traditionally not dealt well with Australian pacers and struggled against India’s top bowler Bumrah.
Azam admitted his middle-order batters let him down against India.
“The way we started, we were targeting 280 or 290 but the collapse cost us so our total is not good,” he said.
Injured and out-of-favour opener Fakhar Zaman is back in contention for Friday, as Pakistan look to get past their slow batting starts.
Rizwan said his team was looking forward to the Australia challenge.
“We haven’t lost our spirits after one loss.”