Pakistan have lost both their encounters against South Africa in Champions Trophy history    Getty Images
Pakistan have lost both their encounters against South Africa in Champions Trophy history Getty Images

“We need to overhaul approach, mindset and work on improving our stagnating skills and play with clear minds. Our age old problem of strike rotation and poor death bowling hurt us badly in the game”, stated Shahid Afridi from his official Twitter handle on Sunday. Even former Pakistan skipper, Imran Khan, was left agitated after his team’s after poor showing against arch-rivals India in the fourth match of ongoing ICC Champions Trophy 2017. Without doubt, Pakistan are the weakest side in the current championship. Ranked No. 8 in ODIs, they need to change their intent and attitude in only a couple of days to win their remaining encounters and proceed forward in the tournament. This, by far, remains a humongous task for them. They next face one of the title contenders, South Africa at Edgbaston, Birmingham and no one, from the connoisseurs of cricket to the their own fans, would be willing to place their money on the Asian Men in Green.

Pakistan poles apart from modern-day ODI cricket:

After their 124-run defeat to India, ESPNCricinfo‘s writer, Jarrod Kimber, wrote, “Playing Pakistan in this form is having a bye. Bye, Pakistan, bye.” Rightly stated as Sarfraz Ahmed’s side are not a well oiled line-up. Since the ICC World Cup 2015, Pakistan have won only 16 of their 38 ODIs. From August 2016, Pakistan have emerged victorious in only two series and both of them have come against West Indies, placed No. 9 in ODI rankings. What is the reason for Pakistan’s horrendous run?

This could take a while. Nonetheless, I would like to keep it as crisp as possible. Pakistan have been a shadow of themselves since time immemorial in the 50-over format. Since mid 2000s, the format has gone through rapid changes and witnessed teams adapting to them accordingly. However, Pakistan have been caught in a fix in this aspect. The advent of the shortest format, T20Is, have forced teams to give utmost importance to bolster their lower order and fill their line-up with some power hitters. Teams like India have also given freedom to the top order to play the waiting game in the first Powerplay overs and turn on the heat after the mid innings. Pakistan appear nowhere close to being on course in these regards.

As a result, Pakistan were seen struggling in a big chase against India on Sunday. Their run-rate was miserable, to say the least, chasing 289 in 41 overs. In the first 10 overs, they were scoring at 5.10 per over. From 11-20, Pakistan added only 37 runs and lost a wicket as well. Only between 21-30 overs, Men in Green scored at 6.40 but lost 5 wickets in process. The last few overs saw them muster 37 runs at 3.27, which shows their sorry state. Their overall innings’ run-rate was slightly over 4. It very much sums up what Afridi pointed out in his tweets in context to strike rotation and playing freely.

To make matters worse, their fitness remains a big concern as Sunday’s rain-interrupted game saw two of their main bowlers experiencing cramps, batsmen remaining below par with their running and fielders failed to grasp half chances coming their way. All the top four title contenders, England, India, Australia and South Africa, concentrate hard on their ground fielding and catching, whereas Pakistan have fell flat in addressing these issues.

No match for Proteas?

Will Pakistan continue to drop chances on the field against a deadly fielding unit in form of AB de Villiers’ side? South Africa bat deep till No. 8. On the other hand, Pakistan bat from No. 5 to 6 (in form of Shoaib Malik and Sarfraz). Only Mohammad Aamer conceded less than 4 per over versus India. From South Africa’s perspective, every bowler remained under 6 per over in their tournament opener versus Sri Lanka. There are minimal chances of the pitch in Edgbaston remaining slow and sluggish to provide some assistance to the subcontinent side. Even overcast conditions will not help Pakistan’s cause as South Africa have a polished bowling arsenal and showed what they are capable of against England, a few days back, in Lord’s cricket ground. They have Imran Tahir and Kagiso Rabada, two men constantly competing for the No.1 bowler’s ranking. Lastly, it is needless to say that a batting-friendly turf would aid the Proteas’ with the likes Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis and the ever-reliable, de Villiers.

For now, it very much depends on how baldy the Pakistani camp is hurt after the embarrassing loss to India. The onus will be on the team management and the pep talks they inject to the squad. More importantly, it will also be crucial as to how every individual responds. They may still spring a surprise but it looks highly unlikely against a side who was professional, despite tested to some extent, in their opener versus Sri Lanka.

Glaring numbers:

Any team who have followed Pakistan will know that they can easily rule out the 1992 World Cup winners from the contest by scoring over 250. Over the last 5 years, Pakistan have the worst record in chasing above 250 against the top 8 teams. They have a forgettable win per cent (18.52) by triumphing in only 5 of such 27 encounters. Nonetheless, if at all, they can rectify their batting order and put up a better show against South Africa, scoreboard pressure can test the ‘chokers’. Surprisingly, Proteas have the second worst record in chasing over 250 during the same time period. They have won only 6 of their 22 chases and boast of a win per cent of 27.27. If the Pakistanis can put up a fight with the willow, South Africa will be under the radar.

Word of caution for Proteas:

South Africa were tested during the first 10 overs against Sri Lanka. With the Islanders bowling 40 dot balls in the first 60 deliveries, they had the opposition to the wall. Similarly, despite being on par for anything above 330, they managed only 101 runs and lost 3 wickets in the last 15 overs. Pakistan would like to take this game as a ‘nothing-to-lose’ one (as they cannot go any further down from their current state) and pressurise the African nation.

On the other hand, South Africa would like to seal knockouts’ spot by winning consecutive games. They would not like to leave it till their last game, versus defending champions India, to book a semi-final ticket.

Last meeting:

Both the sides last met in an ODI during World Cup 2015. The match was played in Eden Park, Auckland with everyone eyeing a South African victory. However, Proteas ‘choked’ in a modest chase by 29 runs (D/L method) and Pakistan would be hoping for a similar performance.

Nonetheless, in their last Champions Trophy tie, South Africa prevailed over Pakistan by 67 runs. This match was also played at Edgbaston, Birmingham.

CT record:

Pakistan have a poor record in ICC Champions Trophy. They have won only 7 of their 19 games with a win per cent of 36.84.

South Africa carry a better record with 12 victories from 22 clashes in the tournament history. With a 54.54 win record, they will start as favourites against Pakistan.

Pakistan likely XI: Farkar Zaman, Azhar Ali, Babar Azam, Shoaib Malik, Mohammad Hafeez, Sarfraz Ahmed (c & wk), Imad Wasim/Harris Sohail, Shahbad Nadeem, Mohammad Aamer, Junaid Khan, Hasan Ali

South Africa likely XI: Quinton de Kock (wk), Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers (c), JP Duminy, David Miller, Chris Morris, Wayne Parnell, Kagiso Rabada, Imran Tahir, Morne Morkel

Squads:

Pakistan: Sarfraz Ahmed (c & wk), Azhar Ali, Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Hafeez, Babar Azam, Shoaib Malik, Umar Akmal, Fakhar Zaman, Imad Wasim, Hasan Ali, Fahim Ashraf, Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Aamer, Junaid Khan, Shadab Khan

South Africa: AB de Villiers (c), Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock (wk), Faf du Plessis, JP Duminy, David Miller, Chris Morris, Wayne Parnell, Andile Phehlukwayo, Kagiso Rabada, Imran Tahir, Dwaine Pretorius, Keshav Maharaj, Farhaan Behardien, Morne Morkel

TIME: (14:00 local | 13:00 GMT | 18:30 IST)