Despite the series loss to Australia, Pakistan’s bowling coach Azhar Mahmood was upbeat about finding suitable options and trying various combinations ahead of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019, which will be played in England and Wales from 30 May to 14 July.
Pakistan lost by 80 runs in the third one-day international against Australia in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday, giving the visitors an unassailable 3-0 lead in the five-match series.
Azhar said losing the series was disappointing, but bowlers have done well. “It is very disappointing for us to have lost the series,” said Azhar. “But, the bowlers have bowled well. You must give credit to Australia. (Aaron) Finch has been phenomenal in this series,” he said.
Finch scored centuries in each of Australia’s eight-wicket wins in Sharjah before missing a third by 10 runs in Abu Dhabi.
Azhar said there were still positives for Pakistan. “There have been positives like Usman (Shinwari), who bowled well on Wednesday,” said Azhar of the left-arm fast bowler who dismissed opener Usman Khawaja in the first over on Wednesday.
“Junaid has come back well, young Hasnain bowled well. We have a few positives in batting with a couple of centuries in Sharjah. But, in Wednesday’s match, we just did not click,” he added.
Azhar said there were a couple of places up for grabs for the World Cup, for which Pakistan have tried some players as potential options. “We are trying different combinations keeping the World Cup in mind,” said Azhar, adding: “If we play only our main strength and then someone gets injured, we won’t have any options left. This series is our best chance to test the bench strength.”
Pakistan will take on the Windies in the World Cup opener on 31 May at Trent Bridge. In the lead up to that match, Pakistan will play five 50-over warm-up matches, five ODIs and a T20I (versus England). With Pakistan to play a minimum of nine World Cup matches, the green shirts will feature in a minimum of 20 white ball fixtures in the approximately 10-week period.
Azhar denied there was any pressure ahead of the World Cup. “We are testing the bench strength. We have seven players who are not here and they give strength to our batting and bowling. We have one or two spots that are up for the taking”, said Azhar
“We are trying bowlers for the World Cup. We know our main strength is bowling, so we have tried Yasir Shah, just in case we need an additional spinner as a wicket-taking option. When we go to England for the World Cup, the wickets will be drier, so we want to see if we can pick Yasir. We have tried our options and combinations to be certain and clear on who are our bowlers for the available spots and this was the best occasion to try them.”
Azhar admitted Pakistan have only taken eight wickets in three matches but that was due to unresponsive pitches.
“If you see overall, then we have not taken very many wickets. They also did not get wickets and we lost wickets in the final overs (while batting). Sharjah wicket did not have any assistance for bowlers. When we scored 280 and 284, they chased down in the 49th and 47th overs, respectively,” he continued.
Azhar said, “Overall, I think we lost matches but we got to know about the strengths and weaknesses of the bowlers and we will work in the camp on those weaknesses.”
Shoaib Malik, the Pakistan skipper, was disappointed that the home team were unable to grab the opportunities that came their way.
“The Aussie bowlers were seaming and swinging the ball around,” he said.
“If you give a couple of chances to a good batsman, then expect to chase something big. Getting opportunities and grabbing them is key.”
Echoing Mahmood’s sentiments, Malik explained, “We are trying to give all the players chances, so selection committee and team management have a better picture in front of them. Every game is important. We have two more opportunities. If we win two games, we have something in our pocket.”