Three decades have passed since Imran Khan’s iconic ‘cornered tigers’ triumphed in the 1992 Cricket World Cup in Australia. Despite seven attempts over this span, Pakistan has yet to replicate that historic victory. As the captain of Pakistan, Babar Azam, gears up for the upcoming tournament in India, scheduled from October 5 to November 19, he faces a situation reminiscent of Imran Khan’s era.

Naseem Shah, the young fast bowler, was expected to be a linchpin in Pakistan’s pace attack, partnering with Shaheen Shah Afridi and Haris Rauf. However, Naseem’s grueling workload over the past year, including his participation in the Lanka Premier League just before the Asia Cup, has taken a toll on the 20-year-old. Naseem suffered a right shoulder injury during a Super 4 stage game against archrival India in the Asia Cup, necessitating surgery that could keep him out of international cricket for three to four months.

In Naseem’s absence, Hasan Ali, who has been absent from Pakistan’s white-ball cricket for over a year, has surprisingly been recalled to fill the void. Several other potential replacements, including tall fast bowler Ihsanullah and Mohammad Hasnain, were ruled out due to various injuries. The selectors decided to include another young pacer, Zaman Khan, as part of the traveling reserves.

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Chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq explained, “We have been struggling to pick fast bowlers because of injuries, not just Naseem’s injury. We focused on choosing experienced players who are familiar with the conditions and can handle the pressure of a big event like the World Cup. That’s why we picked Hasan Ali.”

While Babar Azam continues to shine as the top-ranked ICC batsman, consistently scoring in white-ball cricket, there are concerns about Pakistan’s bowling department, which may affect their chances of reaching the semifinals. Naseem had demonstrated his ability to control runs and take crucial wickets, even during the final overs, when batsmen usually accelerate their scoring.

However, neither the fast bowlers nor the spinners made a significant impact during the Asia Cup, where Pakistan suffered a heavy 228-run defeat to India and was eliminated from the final spot by Sri Lanka’s inexperienced side.

Deputy captain and all-rounder Shadab Khan’s form has also been lackluster this year, with only 13 wickets in 11 ODIs and an average of 19.71 in batting.

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One bright spot for Pakistan is the formidable pair of Shaheen Shah Afridi and Haris Rauf, who have the potential to dismantle any top-order batting lineup. They showcased their abilities during the abandoned group game against India in the Asia Cup.

However, Inzamam is concerned about the spinners’ inability to pick up wickets in the middle overs, emphasizing the importance of their role.

Left-handed opener Imam-ul-Haq is among the top four ODI batters globally, but the form of Fakhar Zaman has raised questions about his ability in the top-order. Fakhar hasn’t scored a half-century in the 11 games following his three successive ODI centuries against New Zealand. Fatigue from extensive travel during the Asia Cup may have contributed to his underwhelming performance.

Despite these challenges, Babar Azam’s batting brilliance could help Pakistan post imposing totals against tougher opponents like India, England, and Australia. With support from players like Salman Ali Agha, Mohammad Rizwan, and Iftikhar Ahmed in the middle-order, Pakistan aims to make a mark in the World Cup.

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Pakistan will face two relatively easier opponents before their highly anticipated match against India in Ahmedabad on October 14, starting with their opening match against first-timers the Netherlands, followed by a clash with Sri Lanka.