Pakistan’s campaign in the Asia Cup 2023 ended on a disappointing note, shifting the team’s focus to the upcoming ICC World Cup 2023 in India, set to kick off on October 5. The Men in Green made some significant changes to their ODI squad following the Asia Cup, including the recall of Hasan Ali. However, a severe setback came in the form of Naseem Shah’s injury, which ruled him out of the World Cup. To cover their bases, Pakistan has named three traveling reserves: wicketkeeper-batter Mohamad Haris, spinner Abrar Ahmed, and fast bowler Zaman Khan, who would step in if any injuries occur during the tournament.

Given Pakistan’s recent performance in the Asia Cup, it’s evident that the team heavily relies on its skipper, Babar Azam. The batting department remains a concern, and addressing this issue becomes a top priority. Naseem Shah’s absence in the pace attack further complicates matters, as he had been a potent force with 32 wickets in 14 ODIs at an impressive average of 16.96.

Hasan Ali, with 91 ODI scalps, returns to the squad after an extended absence from white-ball cricket. Pakistan possesses a promising squad, and if they unleash their full potential, they could make a significant impact in the tournament. As we approach the World Cup on October 5, let’s take a closer look at Pakistan’s prospects.

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Pakistan’s 15-Member ICC World Cup Squad:
Babar Azam (c), Shadab Khan, Mohammad Rizwan, Imam-ul-Haq, Abdullah Shafique, Saud Shakeel, Fakhar Zaman, Haris Rauf, Hasan Ali, Iftikhar Ahmed, Muhammad Nawaz, Muhammad Wasim Junior, Agha Salman, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Osama Mir.

Naseem Shah’s Injury a Major Setback:
Naseem Shah’s absence is a significant blow to Pakistan’s pace attack, alongside Shaheen Afridi and Haris Rauf. Naseem, at just 20 years old, had shown promise with his economy rate and consistent line and length. Unfortunately, an injury to his right shoulder during the Asia Cup Super 4 stage game against arch-rivals India will delay his return to international cricket by three to four months. Hasan Ali’s return raises questions, given his prolonged absence from the game. Additionally, several other contenders like tall fast bowler Ihsanullah and Mohammad Hasnain were ruled out due to various injuries.

Strengths of the Pakistan Cricket Team:
Imam-ul-Haq has been solid at the top of the order, boasting nearly 3000 runs in ODI cricket at an impressive average of 50.44. He has proven himself in Asian conditions, and Pakistan will rely on him to perform consistently. Skipper Babar Azam, one of the world’s leading batsmen, is a cornerstone for the team. With 5409 runs in ODIs at an average of 58.16, his ability to keep the batting unit stable is crucial. Pakistan’s fortunes in the tournament could depend on his consistent run-scoring.

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Players like Mohammad Rizwan and Iftikhar Ahmed can contribute significantly. Rizwan is known for his versatile stroke play and reliability, with 1693 runs at an average of 36.90. Iftikhar Ahmed’s aggressive style and strike rate of over 100 make him a key figure in the middle order.

In the bowling department, Shaheen Shah Afridi is the leader of the pack. With 86 wickets in 44 ODIs, he is expected to breach the 100-wicket mark. Haris Rauf’s recent performance, surpassing 50 wickets in the format, adds another weapon to the pace attack. Vice-captain Shadab Khan, known for his spin skills, has taken 83 wickets in ODIs.

Weaknesses of the Pakistan Cricket Team:
Naseem Shah’s absence leaves a void in Pakistan’s pace attack, and Hasan Ali’s return after a prolonged absence raises concerns. The team’s bench lacks depth and threat in both pace and spin bowling, demanding an improvement in the bowling department during the World Cup. Youngsters like Mohammad Wasim Jr and Mohammad Nawaz need to step up and play fearless cricket.

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Fakhar Zaman’s poor form is another concern. His struggles have led to his exclusion from crucial matches, and he needs to regain his form quickly. While Pakistan has some experienced senior players, the team’s batting options beyond them appear limited, making them overly reliant on a few key figures.

Author’s View: Pakistan’s Top-Four Chances Are Uncertain:
Pakistan may face challenges in securing a spot in the top four due to several key factors. Naseem Shah’s absence and the heavy reliance on Babar Azam are major concerns. If Babar fails to consistently deliver with the bat, Pakistan could struggle to put up competitive totals. Since their 1992 triumph, Pakistan hasn’t found their rhythm in ODI World Cups, and this trend might continue. Achieving success will require an extraordinary effort from Babar and his team, who must remain focused throughout the tournament.

Players to Watch Out For:
Imam

-ul-Haq is a player with immense potential. He has been consistent, and his ability to score big will be crucial. Shaheen Shah Afridi, a skilled pacer known for swing and seam movement, can be a decisive factor in this side.