News Analysis

Sub-par batting shows costing Pakistan

Pakistan have both their selection and batting to get right in a game against a team that is in as much of a hole as they are

What is a par score in this World Cup? Ask most players and they'll say something around 300. Since arriving down under in late January, Pakistan have played three ODIs and have been dismissed for 210, 250 and 224. In golf it's good to be under par. In cricket it's not. And Pakistan's batting has been decidedly sub-par in the New Zealand/Australia conditions over the past few weeks.
It should be mentioned that Pakistan won both of their World Cup warm-up games, against Bangladesh and England. But they were victories that came from chasing 247 and 251 respectively. To be a force in this tournament, Pakistan will have to be able to score 300-plus. And that will be all the harder while uncertainty surrounds their batting line-up.
Pakistan are mercurial in every sense; their selections are as hard to predict as their performances. Some sort of change was required, for opener Mohammad Hafeez was ruled out of the World Cup through injury. But the logical move of replacing him with Nasir Jamshed was ignored, and instead Younis Khan was asked to open for the third time in 262 ODIs.
Sarfraz Ahmed kept wicket in their past 10 ODIs before this World Cup, and was third on their run tally in that time. Then he was dropped on the eve of the tournament and Umar Akmal took the gloves. Haris Sohail went from No. 5 to first drop, Sohaib Maqsood came in for his first ODI in four months, and of the top six only Ahmed Shehzad, Misbah-ul-Haq and Umar stayed in their spots.
"There's no real panic with the batting," Misbah said on the eve of Saturday's match against West Indies in Christchurch. "Ahmed Shehzad did well in the last game, Umar Akmal and Haris Sohail have been doing well of late. It's unfortunate that they had one bad game [against India], Haris got bogged down and then out. It's not like Haris is not reading the ball well or anything; he was playing well and then got out.
"There's no reason to panic. That said, we do have to capitalise on our batting starts and hope that five of six batsmen get into form and get bat on ball so we can get big scores. We've discussed this in meetings, the importance of converting starts.
"If you look at execution, it's also pretty fine. Two games ago, Sohaib Maqsood finished a great match [against Bangladesh]. He was practicing hard, was in good nick, got 93. Umar Akmal did well against England, he executed his plans and finished them. It's just one game against India that he failed. It was unfortunate that these two batsmen missed out there."
Perhaps the panic will set in if Pakistan follow their loss to India with defeat at the hands of West Indies, who opened their tournament by losing to Ireland. The similarities between the two sides are striking: both are without their best bowler due to questions over bowling actions; both have struggled for form in recent months; and both lost their World Cup opening match.
"It's an important game for us and also for West Indies," Misbah said. "We both need to win this game. So I think both teams will be looking forward to this game, mentally and physically ready for that. If we need to do well in this World Cup this is an important game, and both teams need to win. We know that. Everybody is focused and trying hard."
Pakistan have entered this World Cup without Saeed Ajmal, the No. 1 ODI bowler in the world, and West Indies without Sunil Narine, the No. 2 in the world. But Jason Holder, the West Indies captain, said his side had started to become accustomed to making do without Narine.
"He has done tremendously well for us over the years," Holder said of Narine. "For him to miss any team is a big loss. We've just got to move on from that. We have capable players in the likes of Sulieman Benn and Nikita Miller, who are two quality spinners for us as well. It's all about them getting their opportunity and performing for us.
"We both [West Indies and Pakistan] haven't been playing up to our potential and we've lost a few players. It should be a very entertaining game. I guess whoever executes their plans better on the day will come out on top."

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale