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June 5, 2013
Pakistan are known for their mercurial performances but their record in ICC tournaments is impressive, having made the semi-finals in the last six events. Their previous outing in England was successful as they lifted the 2009 World Twenty20. However, their squad for the 2013 Champions Trophy is a relatively low-profile one, missing players including Umar Akmal, Shahid Afridi, Younis Khan and Umar Gul.
Although they are led by 39-year-old Misbah-ul-Haq, the tournament's oldest player, the squad is young. The bowling attack is a blend of lively left-arm pacers, including the 7'1" tall Mohammad Irfan, Junaid Khan and Wahab Riaz, backed by the two right-armers, Asad Ali and Ehsan Adil. Offspinner Saeed Ajmal is the most experienced bowler in the side.
Gul's absence due to a knee injury is a big loss for Pakistan, however, even though he hasn't been at his best recently.The onus will be on Junaid as the strike seamer, and he will draw on his experience in English conditions when he briefly played for Lancashire last year.
However, Pakistan's batting and fielding will be under the microscope. Nasir Jamshed and Imran Farhat are the potential openers but top-order collapses have often been the cause of Pakistan's downfall, piling the pressure on the middle order. The selectors made a bold decision to drop the out-of-form Younis Khan and focus on youth instead. In the current line-up, Shoaib Malik brings experience to the middle order, playing alongside youngsters, including Asad Shafiq and Umar Amin. Pakistan have also appointed the Australian, Trent Woodhill as their batting coach for the Champions Trophy.
The squad had a six-day camp in Abbottabad, at an altitude of 1260m in a bid to replicate the conditions in the UK. The camp, boosted by the presence of Wasim Akram and Javed Miandad, focused more on fitness and batting skills. They began their tour of England with two ODIs each against Scotland and Ireland and played a tied game against the latter in Dublin.
Pakistan will look to Mohammad Hafeez to provide strong starts at the top of the order. He takes time to settle in but once set, can score fluently. He struggled against Dale Steyn in South Africa but bounced back to score a hundred against Ireland earlier this month. Over the last 12 months, he has scored 519 runs and is the second-highest run-scorer in ODIs for Pakistan in that period.
Asad Ali. The right-arm seamer has done well under Misbah in domestic cricket with Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited and Faisalabad Wolves this year. When Pakistan's more experienced bowlers were leaking runs against Ireland, Ali stood out with economical figures of 1 for 22 off ten overs, including four maidens. He might not have express pace but his ability to hit the deck hard and bowl a decent line has made him a surprise prospect for Pakistan in English conditions. Another thing to look forward to is Misbah's new-found aggression in his batting, which was on view during the domestic T20 - he finished as the leading run-scorer with 206 runs at a strike-rate of 140.13, smashing 12 sixes.
The team's batting and technique in English conditions will be under scrutiny. Pakistan have made some changes at the top of the order to negotiate the new ball, demoting Hafeez down to No.3 but the question is if the rest can maintain the momentum. With Afridi absent, there is no real fire-power in the lower order and much will depend on Kamran Akmal.
Champions Trophy history
Pakistan have featured in three semi-finals, beaten by New Zealand (in 2000 and 2009) and West Indies (2004). They failed to progress beyond the group stages in 1998, 2002 and 2006. In the last edition in 2009, a crucial dropped catch cost them a place in the final. However, they have an unbeaten record against India in the Champions Trophy (2-0), in contrast to the head-to-head record in the World Cup and World T20.
Ranked No.6, Pakistan haven't been impressive in the last 12 months, winning nine and losing eight out of 19 ODIs. They were tested against Ireland in both games. The first one ended in a tie, while the second game saw the visitors recover from a batting collapse to scrape home by two wickets.
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent. He tweets hereFeeds: Umar Farooq
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