Pakistan batsmen have scored nine centuries this year in 15 ODIs. That is the most by any team. Yet, stunningly, all those hundreds have come in defeats. And that might well be down to the pace at which those runs have come. The numbers suggest so. What might hurt Pakistan further is that they don’t seem to have identified their slow scoring rate as an issue.
Since the 2015 World Cup, in terms of the combined strike rate for the top three, Pakistan are seventh among the ten teams taking part in the 2019 event. Imam-ul-Haq features among the top ten for batsmen with the lowest strike rates (with at least 1000 runs since the 2015 World Cup); Mohammad Hafeez is in there too.
Of those nine centuries, four were scored by the top-order trio of Imam (two), Fakhar Zaman and Babar Azam. The three of them were integral to Pakistan scoring 300-plus totals consistently in the recent ODI series in England, but they lost that series 4-0.
One of the talking points in that series was around the Trent Bridge ODI, where England hunted down a target of 341 with three balls to spare. Babar scored 115 in that match, but at a strike rate of 102.67. In contrast, Jason Roy’s match-winning 114 took 23 balls fewer (89), and came at a robust strike rate of 128.08.
In the previous ODI, in Bristol, Imam helped Pakistan to what seemed a formidable total of 358 for 9. He hit 151 at a brisk pace, off just 131 balls. But that seemed sluggish when England chased down the target with more than five overs to spare, with openers Jonny Bairstow and Roy blasting the Pakistan bowling to ransack 159 runs in the first 17.3 overs (105 balls).
As for Fakhar, in his first 18 ODIs, he had a strike rate of 101 and an average of 76. In his last 18 matches, the strike rate has dropped to 91 and the average to 32.
In the last three years, Babar and Imam have scored a number of centuries, but the average balls taken by the pair are 107 and 108 respectively. The top two in that list, Bairstow and Roy, have taken 75 and 83 balls on an average for their three-figure scores respectively.
In a World Cup where big hitting and big scores are expected to be the norm, this could be a problem, but do Pakistan even recognise it? Before leaving for England, Babar responded to a question on him chasing milestones by pointing to his No. 1 rank among T20I batsmen (he is also No. 7 in ODIs). “If I can be No. 1 in the world without power-hitting, then I don’t need power-hitting,” he said.
Even Pakistan captain Sarfaraz Ahmed was reluctant to concede that there was an issue.
“As far as a strike rate is concerned, I don’t think it matters a lot,” Sarfaraz said on the eve of Pakistan’s World Cup opener against West Indies at Trent Bridge. “If England played at 140 (in that ODI series), our batsmen played at a strike rate of 120. Both teams scored similar runs: If they made 370, we also made 360 and 340,” he said. “Their playing style is different, ours is different. We will try and play as far as possible according to the situation.
“If we have to hit at a strike rate of 130, we will do that. We will play as per the requirements of the scoreboard.”
In overs 11 to 40 since the last World Cup, Pakistan’s run rate of 5.35 is a mid-table figure among the ten teams playing in this World Cup. Their batsmen take 13 balls per boundary, which is three more than England, who are perched at the top. Even in the last ten overs, Pakistan have struggled, hitting at 7.54 runs per over, which is sixth among the top ten teams.
Pakistan’s first two opponents at the World Cup are West Indies and England, and both matches are at Trent Bridge, which is likely to be sunny and warm and, in any case, often makes batting look easy. Andre Russell has already warned that West Indies will target scores in the region of 400, and England are – unofficially – targeting 500 at some point in the tournament. Can Pakistan match them?