Pakistan ODI Cricket: What is the issue with their middle-order?

Pakistan ODI cricket has been brilliant since the conclusion of the 2019 Cricket World Cup. Their top three in ODIs – Fakhar Zaman, Imam ul-Haq, and Babar Azam – all have laid a great platform at the top. However, their middle-order has taken a hit since the 50-over event. And it has been poor. What can be done with their middle-order batters?

Ever since Babar Azam has taken over Pakistan’s ODI captaincy, he has led the side brilliantly. He led them to five series – all part of the World Cup Super League – and won four of them. As a result, Pakistan reached no.4 in the ODI rankings. 

Out of the five series they have played, three of them were played at home and two were away. The only loss they had suffered was an embarrassing 3-0 defeat to a completely new England squad. Apart from that, they have been excellent in all parts of the game. They even chased down 300+ totals twice in space of two months.

Most of the runs have been scored by the top three. The middle and the lower order – slots 4 to 7 – have been very inconsistent. 17 batters have played in those positions and averaged about 22 runs per wicket and striking at 88. In a time when our middle-order was strong, what happened now? We will take a look at this issue. 

Pakistan ODI cricket – What is wrong with them?

17 players have been tried between positions 4 to 7. Only one batter has played over 10 plus innings; Mohammad Rizwan. Rizwan however, averages only 19.78 with two fifties in 15 matches he batted. 

Following is the table of the 17 players who have played for Pakistan in positions 4-7 post-2019 World Cup;

PlayerMatchesRunsAverageStrike Rate50s/100sHigh score
Mohammad Rizwan1527719.7879.592/074
Shadab Khan721130.1493.771/086
Haris Sohail316755.6692.772/071
Khushdil Shah615451.33100.650/041*
Iftikhar Ahmed811638.6699.140/032*
Saud Shakeel46421.3365.301/056
Sohaib Maqsood34615.3385.180/019
Sarfaraz Ahmed34414.6675.860/023
Haider Ali24221.00127.270/029
Faheem Ashraf43411.33154.540/023
Asif Ali32110.561.760/019
Mohammad Nawaz3157.571.420/08*
Danish Aziz212660.000/09
Imad Wasim11212150.000/012
Muhammad Haris26375.000/06
Hassan Ali144200.000/04
Wahab Riaz11100.000/01*

The table clearly shows the lack of consistent performance from the 17 players mentioned. But fair to say, they have also been given very limited chances. Rizwan has played 17 matches, the same number of matches Pakistan has played since the 2019 World Cup.

Only four players have played five-plus innings in this time period. Two of them averaged in the 50s. 

Haris Sohail has been the perfect solution to 5th place on the One Day side. Overall, he averages 46 in ODI cricket with an SR in the mid-80s. His ability to change gear at will was a massive boost for Pakistan. But injuries and fitness issues have kept him out from the side, last seen in the Zimbabwe series in 2020. 

The rest who played under five matches have been given inconsistent run. It has been a continuous chop from chief selector Mohammad Wasim, who cannot seem to keep one player for a long time. Is it a lack of trust from Selectors?

That seems to be a bigger issue. Take Sohaib Maqsood for example. He was coming off an excellent year in 2020 and was selected for his first tour in five years. He played in England last year but failed to score before he was dropped. He averaged almost 45 and struck over 120s in domestic cricket. Should he have been given more chances? Definitely. 

Also Read: The Return of Sohaib Maqsood

The same can be said for youngsters Danish Aziz and Haider Ali. One or two series failures cannot define your cricket. The selectors must show more faith in them.

Khushdil Shah and Shadab Khan – Solution to middle woes?

The return of Shadab in this series has shown how he is crucial to the line-up. Not only he is an attacking leg-spinner, but his batting has risen over the past few years. He has established himself as an all-rounder. It is something we have seen in the past three seasons of PSL. He scored 625 runs in 24 innings with five fifties. Most importantly, his strike rate is 148.8 during this period. 

Shadab can be a solid candidate for the no.6 spot. But what about that fifth spot? What about the spot where it’s so crucial that is required by someone who can change its gear at will? 

Is Khushdil Shah the answer? Could be. Known for his hard-hitting abilities in domestic cricket, Khusdil is also that kind of a guy who can anchor the innings when required. 

The left-hand batter is not all about hitting. His career sees that he can rotates the strike. About 47 per cent of his career runs came without boundaries in his List A career. So far in his short One Day career, he has a 50-50 record in runs coming and boundaries and coming by taking singles and twos.

In the recently completed third ODI against the West Indies, when Pakistan were struggling at 117-5, both Khushdil and Shadab played a reviving role in their stand of 84. It was a mature stand, where both batters first anchored the innings. Once they recovered into a good position, they started hitting. It was a smart batting. 

If both Khushdil and Shadab can solve PAK’s numbers 5 and 6 with Rizwan donning the number 4 spot, the 7th spot can be solved by any of spinning all rounder in M Nawaz or Imad Wasim, or Faheem Ashraf. 

The seventh spot depends on the situation required. Should it be a spinning track, you can pick a spinning all rounder. And in conditions supporting fast bowlers, have a seam bowling all rounder. The 7th spot all depends on the conditions. 

The 2023 Cricket World Cup is about 16 months away. Babar Azam and the team management have a plenty of time to sort things out. 

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