Ex-England captain Nasser Hussain has analysed Pakistan's chances for success in this summer's ICC Men's Cricket World Cup in England & Wales, and he's not ruling them out of a potential triumph.
Hussain, who played 96 Tests and 88 one-day internationals for England, described Pakistan as a 'mercurial' outfit, before tipping some of the young stars to be the catalyst for a strong tournament. "Many Pakistani fans will say they have followed their team for too long and had their hearts broken many times, but I love them, and I love their cricket," he said to PakPassion.net
"I love them because they are mercurial Pakistan and you wonder which Pakistan will turn up on the day. The fact is that you cannot write off Pakistan for this World Cup."
Youthful pace duo Mohammad Hasnain and Shaheen Shah Afridi, both 19, came in for praise, while prized batsman Babar Azam was also singled out alongside left-handed opener Fakhar Zaman.
"Pakistan always produces these players," Hussain said. "And the moment they play it's like, 'Wow these lads have got something about them.' This is what Pakistan do, they play them, they pick them, and they give them a chance. It doesn't matter how old they are, it's all about whether they are good enough.
"If you can clock 90mph as Mohammad Hasnain and Shaheen Shah Afridi can, then that is the sort of wicket-taking potential that will win this World Cup.
"I think it will be a high-scoring World Cup. If Sarfaraz Ahmed can throw the ball to his young guns and say, 'Give me three overs and we need to get Jos Buttler out'. Or 'Get (Virat) Kohli for me', 'We need to get MS Dhoni' or 'Dismiss Steve Smith or Kane Williamson, it doesn't matter how many runs you go for, just get me a wicket,' that will be the difference between winning and losing a World Cup game."
Hussain cited Fakhar's match-winning century in the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy final against India as evidence of what this Pakistan batting line-up can achieve, before explaining why it is the young batters that hold the key to winning games this summer. "I look at Fakhar Zaman and recall what he did at the Champions Trophy and in fact it is these guys that I look at as the ones who can take Pakistan from a competitive score to a good score," said Hussain.
"I look at Babar Azam and see him as the batsman in the Pakistan batting line-up who can take his side to the 300 mark. Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik can take Pakistan to a certain score but actually I am always on the lookout for star names that can put in stellar performances and make you sit back and go 'Wow, this lad can play'.
"If Pakistan can get one or two of their star younger players doing a Virat Kohli or being like a Jos Buttler or doing a Kane Williamson or a David Warner, then that's when Pakistan will be right in the tournament. So, it's the younger Pakistani batsmen that I am looking out for at this World Cup."
That being said, Hussain did not disregard the importance of 37-year old Malik and 38-year old Hafeez, the veteran all-rounders who have amassed 490 ODI caps between them. "They will be vital but Pakistan in general have to find a way of getting a score," he said.
"Hafeez and Malik with their experience have to work out what is a good score for their bowling line-up and conditions."
Hussain also complimented the Sarfaraz- Mickey Arthur collaboration at the helm of the Pakistan side, heralding their passion. "I really like Sarfaraz Ahmed and I like the Sarfaraz Ahmed and Mickey Arthur combination.
"Pakistan is a very emotional, cricket-loving nation and what Pakistan need is a street-fighter-type in charge of the team. I mean that in the nicest of ways and Sarfaraz is that street-fighter and someone that I would definitely want to go to battle alongside against any opponent.
"I don't see Sarfaraz as a bottler, I see him as a real fighter and the Pakistan fans that I know and have known over the years they want their team to fight, and with Sarfaraz and Mickey Arthur you get that fighting spirit in abundance."
Hussain backed the selectors' decision to only pick Mohammad Amir in the squad for the imminent England ODIs, offering a chance for him prove his worth in the team before the tournament begins on 30 May. He did, however, back the 27-year old to find form again. "Obviously there has been a lot of disappointment from Pakistan fans regarding Mohammad Amir and I am sure that for such a high-quality bowler, Amir himself is disappointed in these statistics and his output," he said.
"It seems that the white ball isn't swinging as much for him these days. When I recall Mohammad Amir at his best, he was bowling those big booming in-swingers and then the one going across the batsman became a threat.
"I think they have done the right thing with Amir: 'Go to England, play in the five-match series against England, the door is not closed on you and we will pick from that 17-man squad and let's see if you can get back to your best. We want you to do well, but you have to make sure you put in the performances in those five ODIs against England to play in the World Cup.'
"But having said all of this, I see him as a big-match player and one only has to think back to how he bowled in the Champions Trophy final and the players he got out. There is no doubt that he gets great players out when he is on-song."
Pakistan play England on 5 May in a solitary T20 international, before the five-match ODI series begins on 8 May.
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