Pakistan seek to allay major concerns in World Cup opener

Hyderabad: Pakistan would be desperate to plug the gaping holes and hope their star players regain form when they open their World Cup campaign against a free spirited Netherlands here on Friday.
Following a pre-mature Asia Cup exit and defeats in the two warm-up games, Pakistan definitely need to raise their game to go deep in the ODI showpiece.
The problems begin from the top with the opening combination not looking the most threatening in the competition. Imam-Ul-Haq averages an impressive 50 in ODIs but on flatter decks in India, he need to better his strike rate of 82 by a few notches.
Imam is expected to start against Netherlands but the team will need to choose between the destructive but out-of-form Fakhar Zaman and Abdullah Shafique who doesn’t have the experience of world events. The big positive for the unpredictable team is that its number three and four, skipper Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan, are in sublime touch. Iftikhar Ahmed too has been getting the runs but it remains to be seen if Salman Agha also gets accommodated in the middle-order.
If the warm-ups are an indication, the game on Friday is expected to be another high-scoring affair with bowlers having no margin for error. Getting used to the varied conditions in India will be another challenge for Babar and his players, who don’t get to play in the IPL like the players of other teams. “The boundaries are small. There is no margin for the bowlers. If the bowling is a little bit off, the batsman utilizes it. So, there will be high scores. You will have to play accordingly,” said Babar.
In the absence of injured Naseem Shah, the Pakistan bowlers were at the receiving end in the couple of warm-ups against New Zealand and Australia.
Pakistan vice-captain Shadab Khan has been struggling since Asia Cup and goes into the opener under pressure. Fellow leg-spinner Usama Mir is breathing down his neck and there is a possibility that both may start against the Netherlands as Pakistan search for wickets in the middle overs.
The seasoned Hasan Ali has big shoes to fill in Naseem’s absence as he will open the bowling alongside Shaheen Afridi.
Haris Rauf, who leaked 97 runs in nine overs against Australia, too need be at his best if Pakistan are to advance in the competition.
Of late, Pakistan have left a lot to be desired in the fielding department and will be looking to correct that.
Netherlands, the only associate team in the competition, cannot be taken lightly and it’s only better for Pakistan to face them early in the competition before taking on the bigger teams.
Netherlands, playing their first ODI World Cup since 2011, go into the competition a bit short on game time. Both their warm-ups were hit by rain and they last played an ODI in the Qualifiers in July when they finished ahead of West Indies and another full-member Ireland.
Wesley Barresi, the only one in the current lot who played in 2011, has come out of retirement for his last dance. Former South African left-arm spinner Roelof van der Merwe, 38, is another key member of the squad.
The team which is packed with semi professionals will rely on Andhra-born Teja Nidamanuru for runs in the middle-order.
All-rounder Bas de Leede, whose father Tim has also featured in World Cups, is the x-factor player for Netherlands.

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