Pakistan opening batters have been consistently failing to provide the starts that are needed to win ODIs in modern-day cricket
One-day Internationals (ODIs) are a thrilling and fast-paced format of cricket where every ball matters. Among the various components that shape the outcome of an ODI match, the role of openers is undeniably pivotal. The performance of openers holds such immense importance in ODIs to set or chase targets.
Openers are entrusted with setting the tone for the entire innings. They walk out to bat when the fielding restrictions are in place, and the ball is new and hard. Their job is to capitalise on these conditions by providing a solid foundation.
A strong opening partnership can demoralise the opposition and put the batting side in a commanding position. Conversely, early wickets can spell disaster, putting immense pressure on the middle order. In the first powerplay, which typically lasts for the first ten overs, openers have an opportunity to target the gaps and find boundaries.
By accumulating runs briskly, they not only enhance the team’s scoring rate but also force the opposition to reevaluate their bowling and fielding strategies.
A well-set opening partnership can dictate the pace of the innings, allowing the middle and lower-order batsmen to play their natural game with less pressure.
Surprisingly, in the current year, Pakistan is the only team whose top order didn’t hit a single six in the first power play. The Indian team is on top with 32 sixes while Australia are behind them with 29 sixes. Even Bangladeshi (6) and Afghanistan players (5) have hit sixes in the first field restriction.
As far as the strike rate is concerned, Pakistan players are also far behind the other openers. They scored at a strike rate of 71.10 in the first power play. They are just better than Afghanistan’s (59.09).
Australia (119.57), India (96.76), South Africa (87.50) and England (84.23) are far ahead. Even Bangladesh openers scored runs with a better 71.70 strike rate.
Either batting first or chasing the target, it became difficult for the Pakistani openers to utilise the field restriction with boundaries that create pressure on the middle order especially when chasing the target of over 300 runs.
Openers have been the weakest point in Pakistan’s batting line-up for a long time. The management has tried many players, but the opening slots have remained uncertain.
In the ongoing World Cup, Pakistan batting department looks heavily reliant on out-of-form openers Fakhar Zaman and Imam-ul-Haq.
Fakhar Zaman scored 656 runs in 16 one-day internationals he played in the year 2023 so far.
The other opener, Imam-ul-Haq, managed 488 runs in this year in 13 matches.
Now, other teams are very much aware of both openers’ weaknesses. Fast bowlers are well aware that Fakhar always tries to chase balls outside the off stump and mostly throws his wicket behind the stump or in the slip.
Imam ul Haq many times threw his wicket while trying to play his favourite pull on short ball.
In his first two years, Fakhar played 26 matches in which he scored three centuries and eight half centuries. But in seven matches of the World Cup, he managed only one fifty against India.
On the other hand, Indian opener and skipper Rohit Sharma became a very successful batsman in ODIs since he became an opener. He scored over 10,000 runs in one-day internationals with a high strike rate of 90.47 in more than 250 matches. He also scored 30 centuries and 52 fifties.
Young Indian opener Shubman Gill has played only 35 one-day internationals so far but became number two behind Pakistan skipper Babar Azam.
David Warner, Quinton de Kock, Jonny Bairstow, Dawid Malan, and Kusal Mendis are the other top openers in the world who provide solid platform for their middle-order with their high strike rate, but Pakistan are missing the fire power in the top order that creates pressure on the middle-order.
Why can’t any Pakistani opener play like Rohit Sharma, who hit a century against Afghanistan last week with a strike rate of over 156, hitting 4 sixes and 12 fours?
At least one opener should be aggressive. If you don’t have an attacking opener and a couple of good finishers then that is the problem of the coaching staff and the think tank.
As always Pakistan’s batting strike rate is the weakest link going into the world cup. Strike rate has always been the issue from the top 4 batsmen, who play out till 40th over and then ask the middle order to go all out. They need to get going from the first over to build pressure on the opposition.
With the modern day rules of 2 new balls and only 4 fielders allowed outside the 30-yard circle between overs 11-40 Pakistan needs to learn the art of posting scores close to 400. The formula of preserving wickets till 35 overs and scoring in the last 10-15 overs is not going to allow them to post huge totals.
Another alarming thing for the Green-shirts is that since the last world cup in 2019 Pakistan has not posted a single score over 350 though they did chase 349 against Australia earlier and 346 against Sri Lanka in this world cup.
Since the 2019 World Cup, India have scored 350 plus runs seven times, Australia five times, England and South Africa twice and New Zealand and Sri Lanka once each.
The only era when Pakistan top order used to have decent strike rates was when top order consisted of Saeed Anwar, Amir Sohail, Shahid Afridi & Ijaz Ahmed. Teams like India, New Zealand and England used to lag behind Pakistan in this criteria. All of them have sorted out this issue.