"the strike rate you need, he [Azam] has the potential for that.”
Playing fearless cricket was a norm for the Pakistan team under former skipper Imran Khan, particularly during the 80s and the early 90s.
This is when Pakistan beat India virtually everywhere, winning the 1992 Cricket World Cup and countless Test victories.
However, going into the latter part of the 2010 decade, the team gradually began declining and were not the same exciting side.
This was partly down to the retirement of greats such as Wasim Akram, Mohammad Yousaf, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Saeed Anwar and Saqlain Mushtaq.
Also, players controversy and clueless team strategy did not help matters.
Having said that, former opener Ramiz Raja who also became Chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) in September 2021 emphasised the need to play fearless cricket.
In his first major talk to the media, Raja spoke about having a resetting agenda:
“Cricket is my constituency, it’s my subject. My vision is clear cut: I had been thinking that whenever I get an opportunity, I will reset it. The compass needs to be reset.”
He also emphasises tackling issues at the grassroots level.
Additionally, Raja went on to say that he wants to see a return of valiant cricket from the players and focus on skill development for consistency:
“I have spoken with the Pakistan team and have discussed the model. We clearly know that Pakistan cricket has a fearless and aggressive approach in our DNA.
“We are unpredictable, hence, we are watchable as well because on a given day we can do anything.
“I have countless wishes for Pakistan cricket but all of them will remain wishes until we don’t work on our technique and skills.”
In 2020, a YouTube fan also shared similar sentiments, but highlighted the element of being confident:
“Fearlessness comes from confidence. Confidence comes from skill. My advice to the Pak cricket would be to hone their skills and the rest will follow.”
We delve further at how Pakistan can perform fearless cricket, whilst revisiting some key issues.
With Misbah-ul-Haq stepping down as the coach of the Pakistan team, it is the end of a backfoot mindset.
Having said that, there needs to be a balance and correct positions for the players.
At the top of the order, it is imperative that there is at least one big hitter, if not two.
If Pakistan wants to go all blazing guns, then a combination of Sharjeel Khan and Fakhar Zaman is an exciting one.
With them both being lefties, it can be similar to the famous Saeed Anwar and Aamir Sohail opening pattern.
Fearless cricket does not mean all attack, but to be brave and even take singles, converting 1s into 2s.
The middle-order needs to be ready and not fall into a rut if the team loses early wickets.
A cricketer like Azam Khan if he gets the nod, needs to express himself and play his natural game.
Despite any reservations, he may have had, Misbah-ul-Haq backed Azam for being the teams’ answer in T20 cricket:
“Everyone knows that in modern T20 cricket, the power you need at five or six, the strike rate you need, he [Azam] has the potential for that.”
Faheem Ashraf requires to take a leaf out of the book of Abdul Razzaq and Hassan Ali, and aim big.
He has potential, but obviously, something is not getting through to him in the limited-overs format.
The likes of Babar Azam, Muhammad Rizwan and Shadab Khan can show more intent also, but with an element of sensibility. They can steady the ship, without getting too bogged down.
Going forward the PCB will need to hire aggressive coaches to keep that attacking positive mindset.
Lessons to be Learnt
Whilst Babar Azam and Muhammad Rizwan opening in T20 cricket has been solid, it is not the ideal against the big team.
Even if they have to leave Rizwan at the top, Babar should drop down to number three.
Fakhar Zaman is the answer at the top, knowing the x-factor scores he has made, especially in ODI cricket.
Dropping the likes of Fakhar should not be even on the short-term radar. He can single handily change the outcome of a game at the start.
The bowlers are showing aggression, but are not always delivering as per the situation. Haris Rauf is an excellent talent, but he needs to deliver yorkers and get more wickets in his first spell.
He needs to takes inspiration from Wasim Akram and his 1992 Cricket World cup heroics, when captain Imran Khan gave some key advice:
“Don’t worry about wides and no-balls. Get me wickets”
It is also important to select the right team and squad for any series or world event. The perfect scenario is to have players with good strike rates, bowling averages and wow-factor credentials.
Having a mix of left and right-handers is vital, along with a range of spinners.
The latter includes two leg-spinners, one left-arm orthodox bowler and a super spinner in the mould of Saqlain Mushtaq and Saeed Ajmal.
Reflecting on leg-spinners, Pakistan should persist with both Shadab Khan and Usman Qadir in the shorter format squads. If one of them fails, the other can slot in nicely.
Until there are no super-spinners, the presence of leg-spinners are important. This is because leg-spin is an attacking form of art.
Ramiz Raja who is the PCB Chairman should not forget that Imran went into the 1992 Cricket World Cup with two leggies – Mushtaq Ahmed and Iqbal Sikandar.
Leg-spinners and super-spinners are lethal weapons in the Test arena too. Again Saqlain, Ajmal, Mushtaq and Abdul Qadir are prime examples.
At the end of the day, it is not about going from one extreme to another. The Pakistan team needs to strike a middle-ground between firepower and textbook cricket.