In an article for FirstPost Sports, Saj takes a look at the Pakistan and World XI squads and analyses their strengths and weaknesses.
By Saj Sadiq (12th September, 2017)
On Tuesday, a packed Gaddafi stadium will witness a historic encounter between Pakistan and a World XI comprising of some of modern cricket's biggest names. The international cricket-starved public of Pakistan will finally get a chance to see their heroes and some current international stars up close.
The doubters had predicted that the World XI team arriving on Pakistani shores will be made up of players well past their prime and a group of individuals who were not current internationals. However, World XI coach Andy Flower has assembled a squad that includes some of South Africa's finest current players in Faf du Plessis, Imran Tahir, Morne Morkel, Hashim Amla, David Miller, as well as Bangladesh run machine Tamim Iqbal who has been in terrific form of late. In addition, seasoned campaigners such as Sri Lanka's Thisara Perera, Australia's George Bailey, West Indies' Samuel Badree and Darren Sammy as well as New Zealand's Grant Elliott give the World XI an impressive and eye-catching look.
There's a nice balance to the World XI squad with Amla and Tamim expected to provide fireworks at the top of the order. They will be the key to setting up a solid platform. The middle-order looks quite formidable with the likes of Miller, Bailey and du Plessis more than capable of giving the Pakistani bowlers a rough ride. The extremely popular Sammy and Elliott, fresh from a good season at Birmingham Bears can provide the tourists with some late order hitting. Tim Paine is a decent wicket-keeper batsman while Paul Collingwood can still produce magic with the bat which he continues to do at Durham.
The World XI bowling line-up has an interesting combination with the guile of the spin duo of Tahir and Badree as well as the pace and aggression of Morkel, who will be looked upon for early wickets. They have a good all-round talent pool in Perera, Ben Cutting, Collingwood, Sammy and Elliott, who will be expected to share the rest of the overs. The World XI skipper du Plessis will undoubtedly have a number of options at his disposal with the ball in Lahore and on a wicket that is expected to favour the batsmen, this will be a necessary luxury.
Pakistan's selectors opted for a largely youthful squad for the three-match series and it will be interesting to see what combination they prefer in the first match on Tuesday. What concerns Pakistan the most is the lack of firepower in the top order. The hosts will be relying more on the orthodox Ahmed Shehzad, and Babar Azam at number three. However, Pakistan fans will be hoping that Fakhar Zaman will continue from where he left off at the Champions Trophy. Lower down the order, Sarfraz Ahmed, Imad Wasim and Shoaib Malik are likely to provide the impetus and big hitting as and when needed.
With Mohammad Amir missing the opening match, Rumman Raees and Hasan Ali will be Sarfraz's go-to bowlers. Not as quick as Amir, Rumman is, however, a thinking cricketer and his subtle variety could cause the World XI batsmen some problems. Ali's progress has been phenomenal and his displays at the Champions Trophy where he was the leading wicket-taker and Player of the Tournament showed what a great find he has been for Pakistan.
However, with time, teams will look to work Ali out and he will need to keep coming up with deliveries and performances that baffle the opposition batsmen. Pacer Usman Shinwari and Sohail Khan might play the supporting act with the ball. Faheem Ashraf is a very promising all-rounder and the World XI would be best served to carry out some research on this highly-talented youngster before they face him. Pakistan's strength with the ball is undoubtedly in the spin department. Leg-spinner Shadab Khan, fresh from a very impressive Caribbean Premier League (CPL), has the potential to be the star of the show in this series. Wasim and Malik's overs could also be extremely vital, especially if the pace bowlers don't manage to find their rhythm. Pakistan also has Mohammad Nawaz as back-up if required.
Some of Pakistan's cricketers have been playing in the CPL recently, but the vast majority have not had a lot of cricket under their belt since the Champions Trophy and that could give the World XI a slight edge over the hosts. While there will be a sense of unfamiliarity among the tourists, the majority of their squad has been playing regular cricket recently and that could prove crucial. The World XI's best chance in the first match in Lahore could be to catch out the ring-rusty home team ahead of the remaining matches.
Many will suggest that the Independence Cup series represents three exhibition matches purely for the aim of international cricket returning to Pakistan and the players will not be taking the matches too seriously. However, with the International Cricket Council (ICC) stating that the matches will be given international recognition and performances will count towards individual player rankings, there should be no question of the matches not being taken seriously.
The importance of the series against the World XI cannot be underestimated. A lot hinges on this series which will be watched by the Pakistan supporters around the world with bated breath. Whether the series results in more international teams touring Pakistan in the future cannot be guaranteed, but what can be assured is that some fantastic cricket will be on display in front of thousands of cricket-crazy fans in Lahore that is starved of top-class international action.