ANI Photo | Pakistan batter Imam-ul-Haq wants no experiments with underperforming middle-order in World Cup year

With only a few ODIs left ahead of the 2023 ICC Cricket World Cup in India, Pakistan batter Imam-ul-Haq urged that no experimentation should be done with the side’s underperforming middle-order, even though his side has an unassailable 3-0 lead over New Zealand in the ongoing five-match ODI series at home.
Imam, the third ODI’s player of the match, was particularly unconvinced by the idea of using Iftikhar Ahmed or Mohammad Haris as power-hitters in the middle overs.
“I do not think so because we do not have time to do experiments. With Agha [Salman], Shadab [Khan], and [Mohammad] Nawaz, we have enough power-hitting to improvise. It is just a matter of giving them confidence. Their stats are not as big as we have in the top three and it is tough for them because they get five to six overs but their chip-in is impactful and useful,” said Imam as quoted by ESPNCricinfo after the match.
Pakistan has depended heavily on their top three batsmen, Imam, Fakhar Zaman, and Babar Azam, who has scored 62.6 per cent of the team’s runs since the 2019 ODI World Cup, the highest among all nations. They outperform the rest of their batting by 19 runs per dismissal, which is also the greatest for any team. The Imam-Babar partnership has yielded an average of 89.83 runs, including six hundred-run stands; Fakhar-Babar and Fakhar-Imam, on the other hand, have yielded 817 and 812 runs, respectively as pairs.
On the other hand, Pakistan’s middle order has consistently failed to build on the foundation laid down by the top order. The batters between Nos. 4 and No. 7 have averaged 26.9, which is slightly lower than the West Indies, whose middle-order batters average 26.2. While Imam stated that he would prefer to have a stable batting lineup with the ODI World Cup approaching, he also stated that their bowlers needed to strike more frequently in the middle overs.
“Both Nawaz and Shadab are outstanding allrounders so we have to give them the confidence. Babar might be thinking differently but that is what I feel. We have only two games left and it’s really very important to go into a bigger tournament, you have to be settled as much as you can with your main players. We have very less cricket and I do not think we have enough time to find a workaround.”
“But I feel within 11 to 35 overs we need to take wickets in them and we are not able to fetch enough. Sometimes, I feel this is missing and if our spinners in the middle start taking wickets then the match will be a lot more in our control. Today [last night], we took wickets in middle overs hence we managed to reduce them to under 270. So going forward I think fielding and fitness is another department we should make a difference. Catches on crucial stages become very important,” added the batter.
Pakistan’s lineup for the New Zealand series includes many players with recent strong ODI records, enhancing their chances of making the World Cup roster. Their team composition, on the other hand, has pushed many top-order players to slide down to the middle order, including Abdullah Shafique, Shan Masood, Mohammad Rizwan, and Mohammad Haris. When questioned if the rivalry threatens his position, Imam stated that his ability to deal with pressure has helped him stay relevant.

“When you play for Pakistan, you find yourself under pressure in every situation and coming out of it is something that defines you. It is important to handle pressure and that is where you create a difference. Everyone is very talented and all the new openers making their way into the side are good and it automatically creates a sense of competition within. You always remain on your toes, you have to notch up the level of your performance and keep up your fitness, and with everyone around, it creates healthy competition which is good for the team,” said Imam.
Imam stated that his position has recently expanded to incorporate more aggression. However, he lowered it to better suit Rawalpindi’s batter-unfriendly conditions.

“I am no more playing an anchor role because one-day cricket is fast now and if you look at my last eight or nine games, my strike rate is over 100. So now when we get a ball [that is in the slot] we will have a boundary but today (last night) especially the wicket was playing differently and we were in the Pindi phase of mind.”
“The ball was not coming on the up but Fakhar and I do not think a lot as we [have been] playing together for a long time now. The plan is [that it is] always good to have 50-60 runs in the first ten without losing a wicket and then if the wicket is good we try and settle it [total] around 330 to 350. But the wicket was on the slower side and the ball wasn’t coming on the bat well, so we knew 270-280 [would be par] but if our top four went with runs it could have gone to 300-plus,” concluded Imam.
Coming to the match, Pakistan posted 287/6 in their 50 overs after being put to bat first by NZ. Half-centuries from Imam (90) and skipper Babar Azam (54) proved extremely instrumental in helping the hosts post a competitive total. Matt Henry (3/54) and Adam Milne (2/56) proved to be the pick of the bowlers for NZ.
In the chase of 288, Tom Blundell (65), skipper Tom Latham (45) and Cole McConchie, the debutant (64*) played knocks that kept New Zealand in the game, but they fell 26 runs short of a win.
Naseem Shah (2/42) and Shaheen Afridi (2/53) were impressive for Pakistan with the ball, in particular.
The fourth ODI will be played on Friday. (ANI)

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