With only eight teams participating in the 2017 Champions Trophy, and September 30, 2015 being the cut-off date to identify those sides, there'll be a clamour over the next couple of months to rack up the wins and make the cut. Till a few months ago, this cut-off date, and the fact that only eight teams would qualify, wouldn't have caused too many alarms for anyone. However, Bangladesh's fine recent run has coincided with Pakistan's poor form, ensuring that every game in these three ODI series - Bangladesh-India, Bangladesh-South Africa, and Sri Lanka-Pakistan - could be relevant, even if the series are already decided.
At the moment, a little more than one point separates West Indies (88.40), Bangladesh (88.25) and Pakistan (87). Significantly, Pakistan are at the bottom of this list, not Bangladesh, which means they'll need a strong series against Sri Lanka, and hope that Bangladesh don't win too many against India and South Africa. For Bangladesh, who'll play both their series at home, it's a superb opportunity to make a strong statement and knock out one of the traditionally stronger teams.
Pakistan's status as the ninth-best ODI team according to the ICC rankings, is a pretty accurate reflection of their form over the last three-and-a-half years. In 2011, Pakistan's ODI record was the best among all teams
: 24 wins, seven defeats, and a win-loss ratio which was better than all other sides. Since the beginning of 2012, they have a 35-44 win-loss record
which, among the top ten teams, is worse than everyone except Zimbabwe. Even those numbers look better because of a 11-1 record against Zimbabwe and the Associate teams. Exclude those games, and Pakistan's record drops to 24-43
, which is significantly poorer than West Indies and Bangladesh.
A look at the batting and bowling numbers further reveal that Pakistan's batting has been a bigger concern than their bowling during this period. The batsmen have averaged 27 runs per wicket, which is poorer than all teams except West Indies, while they are also the only side to score at less than five runs per over. Pakistan's bowling average is also the poorest, but their economy rate is second-best among the top nine teams during this period.
Pakistan's batting problems are reflected in the numbers below: among the 12 batsmen who've scored at least 500 ODI runs against the top eight teams since the beginning of 2012, none have managed to combine a 35-plus average with an 80-plus strike rate. Sohaib Maqsood and Haris Sohail come closest to achieving it - Maqsood averages 34 at a strike rate of 81.56 from 21 innings
, while Sohail averages almost 38 at a strike rate of 78.31 from 16 matches
. Azhar Ali has pushed it along recently, since taking over as ODI captain after the World Cup, but his strike rate during this period against the top eight teams is still only 71 (and the numbers below exclude the games against Zimbabwe).
The Pakistan batsmen who do score quickly, though, haven't done so for long enough consistently. Umar Akmal has a strike rate of almost 84, but an average of under 28
does scant justice to his batting skills; Shahid Afridi's strike rate is close to 140, but he inspires little confidence, given his inconsistency; Sarfraz Ahmed has shown plenty of urgency and innovation as a batsman, and he, along with Azhar, Maqsood and Sohail, will have to develop a batting line-up that consistently shows more urgency than they have done in the recent past. Younis Khan's poor form during this period undoubtedly hurt them, while in players like Misbah-ul-Haq, Mohammad Hafeez, Ahmed Shehzad and Nasir Jamshed, they have had too many batsmen with strike rates in the mid-70s (even after allowing for the fact that Pakistan have played a lot of games in the UAE, which doesn't produce the most conducive conditions for quick scoring).
Most of the other top teams have multiple batsmen who have scored 400-plus runs at an average of 35 or more, and a strike rate of more than 80 during the last three and a half years. (Click here
for the full list.) Even England, who have consistently been criticised for batting at a tempo that belonged to another era, have four batsmen who meet all three criteria - Joe Root, Jos Buttler, Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen. Pietersen's played only 13 innings during this period, but the other three have all played more than 40. Australia have as many as eight batsmen who fulfill these criteria, while India and New Zealand have five each.
Pakistan's bowlers haven't done so badly, but the top ones haven't played often enough, which has hampered the team badly. Saeed Ajmal's absence has obviously been the biggest setback - he averaged 20.03 at an economy rate of 4.17 for his 94 wickets
before being pulled up for his dodgy action, and when he returned with a remodelled action he was a far lesser bowler. Junaid Khan was out of action too through the World Cup, and struggled in the ODIs in Bangladesh. Among the other regular bowlers, the lack of wickets for Shahid Afridi - 53 from 57 matches
- and Wahab Riaz - 31 wickets from 30 games
- has hurt Pakistan. Even so, the bowling has been a lesser worry than the batting.
In Tests during this period
, Pakistan have a 10-10 win-loss record, which is third among all teams, next only to South Africa and Australia. However, their ODI stats have been so poor that they are in danger of missing out on the 2017 Champions Trophy.