ICC Champions Trophy: The five Pakistani players to watch out for
Champions Trophy success will mean a lot for nation beset by controversy and a squad struggling to reclaim past glory.
Here are the five Pakistani players most likely to make an impact in England in June:
Mohammed Hafeez: After a disastrous tour of South Africa, there were calls in the Pakistani media for Misbah ul Haq to give up ODI captaincy, with Mohammed Hafeez handed the reigns. However, Misbah survived an inquisition by the Pakistan Cricket Board, and Hafeez heads in to the tournament purely as an all-rounder.
In English conditions Hafeez's relatively mediocre off-spin may not be effective but his attacking instinct with the bat will be useful. Opening the batting Hafeez is often the aggressor, although a solid defensive technique allows him to function on a 'horses-for-course' mode.
His modest ODI record (3028 runs in 116 matches at 27.03) does little to justify his importance to the team. After years of being a bit-part player Hafeez cemented a place in the ODI line-up with sensational performances in 2011. He scored 3 centuries in ODIs that year and won an incredible 10 Man-of-the-Match awards in international cricket that year. He became only the third cricketer - after Sanath Jayasuriya and Jacques Kallis - to score 1000-plus runs and take 30 or more wickets in ODIs in a calendar year.
Hafeez was part of the Pakistan Champions Trophy squad that were eliminated in the league stages in 2006, scoring 66 runs and picking 2 wickets in 3 matches.
Nasir Jamshed: The burly left-hander from Lahore plays with a smile on his face. Jamshed in his element is a joy to watch, as he is a pain to opposition bowlers. Despite his powering presence at the crease, Jamshed is not a big hitter of the bowl. He is a stroke-player, who works and weeds his way through every innings.
After a false start in 2008, Jamshed has cemented his place in the Pakistan line-up in 2012. In 26 ODIs, he has scored 1020 at an impressive average of 44.34.
India have been at the receiving end of Jamshed's best knocks in One-day International cricket. During the Asia Cup in 2012 he scored 112, his highest ODI score till date. And, when Pakistan toured india in 2012-13, Jamshed returned with two match-winning centuries in 3 games as Pakistan won the ODI series 2-1.
Conditions in England will be testing for Jamshed, who has played most of his cricket in the sub-continent. But with a sound temperament and the ability to convert starts in to big scores, Pakistan have the perfect foil for Mohammad Hafeez at the top of the batting order.
Junaid Khan: Along with Mohammad Amir, Junaid Khan was one of the most promising pacers at the Under-19 level for Pakistan. Amir appeared first on the international scene, but fell to the lure to spot-fixing, a jail term and a subsequent five-year ban from international cricket.
Junaid Khan though, ever since his debut in 2011, has leapt from strength to strength with his left-arm pace. In 22 One-day Internationals Junaid has an impressive 35 wickets at a measly average of 22.60. In the 2-1 ODI series victory in India, he troubled all the top Indian batsmen, taking eight wickets at an economy rate of 3.66.
Still only 23 years of age Junaid is now the spearhead of the Pakistan pace attack. His experience of playing in England will be extremely beneficial in the Champions Trophy in June. He toured England with the Pakistan Under-19 side in 2007, for five unofficial ODIs and a Test. In 2011, Junaid had a memorable 2011 stint with Lancashire in the Friends Life t20.
With the new ball Junaid has emerged as Pakistan's go-to bowler, and is second only to Saeed Ajmal in Pakistan's wicket-taking column across all 3 formats over the last 12 months.
Mohammad Irfan:If Junaid Khan is the artistry in the Pakistan pace bowling unit, Mohammad Irfan is the 'muscle'. Tall, fast, menacing and possessing a cold stare, Irfan is a handful on lively pitches.
Constantly bowling at 140 kmph, Irfan was the perfect foil to Junaid on Pakistan's recent tour of India, where the duo constantly wrecked the Indian top-order. Irfan has played just 10 ODIs and picked up 15 wickets at an average of 25.
Off the field though, Irfan is the epitome of a gentle giant. Affable by nature, the left-arm seamer from rural Pakistan stands at 7'1", although there is some confusion over his official height. If he is indeed over 7 feet, Irfan is the tallest cricket ever- taller than his idol Joel Garner.
With the red cherry Irfan and Junaid are fearsome propositions for any batting line-up. The question mark about Mohammad Irfan remains his fitness. He is in his thirties, and has been troubled by niggles and bugs over the past few months. If Irfan can keep himself fit, Pakistan have a real shot at the Champions Trophy in seaming conditions in England.
Saeed Ajmal: The No.1 ranked spinner in One-day International cricket, Saeed Ajmal has mesmerized many-a-batsmen since his late foray in international cricket. At 35 he may be reaching the twilight of his career but has set his sights on carrying on till the 2015 World Cup at least.
The likely batting-friendly pitches in the 2013 Champions Trophy in England do not seem to faze the off-spinner. Ajmal has been working with Pakistan's video analyst to study batting techniques of India, West Indies and South Africa - fellow members of Group B.
Throughout his career, Ajmal has relied on variations in delivery and pace, picking up 128 wickets in 80 ODIs. But he has ruled out any new variations for the Champions Trophy, claiming to stick to his repertoire during the two weeks in England.
Pakistan will be relieved that Ajmal did not have to undergo the slated hernia operation and is fully fit. In the absence of Shahid Afridi, Mohammad Hafeez will be Ajmal's spin partner, but the pressure will be on the senior pro to deliver.