“Frankly, I don’t think so because we don’t have time to do experiments,” he said. “With Aga [Salman]Shadab [Khan]And [Mohammad] Nawaz, we have enough clout to improvise. It’s just a matter of trust. Their stats aren’t as big as ours in the top three and it’s tough for them because they get five to six overs, but their chip-in is impressive and useful.”
Pakistan have largely relied on their top three consisting of Imam, Fakhar Zaman and Babar Azam who have scored 62.6% of the team’s runs – the highest of any nation – since the 2019 ODI World Cup. They average 19 runs per dismissal more than the rest of their at-bat – which is also the highest for any team. The Imam-Babar partnership garnered an average of 89.83 including six hundred stands; Fakhar-Babar and Fakhar-Imam meanwhile put up 817 and 812 runs respectively.
On the other hand, Pakistan’s middle order has failed to build consistently on the platform of the highest order. Batters between No. 4 and No. 7 averaged 26.9, slightly lower than the West Indies, whose average batters were 26.2. While Imam said he would prefer a set line-up with the bat as there is an ODI World Cup just around the corner, he noted that their bowlers had to strike more often in the middle overs.
“Both Nawaz and Shadab are excellent all-rounders, so we have to give them confidence,” said Imam. “Babar may think differently, but that’s what I feel. We only have two games left and it’s really important to go to a bigger tournament, you have to deal with your key players as much as possible. We have very a little less cricket and I don’t think we have enough time to find a solution.
“But I feel like we need to take wickets within 11 to 35 overs and we can’t get enough. Sometimes I feel this is missing and when our spinners start taking wickets in the middle the game will be a lot. more in our control.Today [last night], we took wickets in medium overs and so we managed to get them down to under 270. So going forward I think fielding and fitness is another department where we need to make a difference. Catches on crucial stages will be very important.”
The Pakistan squad for the New Zealand series features many players with strong ODI records in recent years, increasing their chances of a spot on the World Cup roster. However, their team combination has forced many top players – including Abdullah Shafique, Shan Masood, Mohammad Rizwan and Mohammad Haris – to fall back to the middle order. When asked if competition threatens his place, Imam said his ability to handle pressure has helped him stay relevant.
“When you play for Pakistan you are under pressure in every situation and coming out is something that defines you,” he said. “It’s important to deal with pressure and that’s where you make the difference. Everyone is very talented and all the new openers that find their way into the side are good and it automatically creates a sense of competition inside. You always stay sharp You have to keep your performance level up and your fitness up, and with everyone around you that makes for a healthy competition, which is good for the team.”
The imam said his role has evolved with more aggression lately. But he tempered it to better suit conditions that weren’t exactly batter-friendly in Rawalpindi.
“I’m not playing an anchor role anymore because one-day cricket is fast now and if you look at my last eight or nine games my success rate is over 100. So if we get a ball now [that’s in the slot] we will have a boundary, but today (last night) especially the wicket played differently and we were in the Pindi phase of the mind.
“The ball didn’t come up, but Fakhar and I don’t think as much as we do [have been] have been playing together for a long time. The plan is [that it is] always good to have 50-60 runs in the first ten without losing a wicket and if the wicket is good we try to work it out [total] about 330 to 350. But the wicket was on the slower side and the ball didn’t hit the bat well, so we knew 270-280 [would be par] but if our top four had gone with runs it could have gone to over 300.
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo’s Pakistani correspondent