How to beat Pakistan – CricViz

A data-driven strategic guide on how to defeat Pakistan.

Aim for something over par

Pakistan is the archetypal bowling-heavy team. You have a bowling attack with five excellent options and a matching spinner as the sixth bowler. Her batting order – with exceptionally consistent opens and a dynamic, flexible middle order – is designed to deliver par totals time and time again. The two divisions go well together, with hitting making sure bowling is never out of the game and bowling making sure hitting doesn’t have to chase enormous sums.

Opposing sides should therefore incorporate this balance into their strategy, recognizing that when they play Pakistan they must aim for slightly above average totals – not an easy task given the strength of bowling – as the hitting is designed to be moderate but too do not chase massive scores. Essentially, Pakistan prefers lower scoring games as their racquets lack the power to consistently compete when the scoring gets higher.

Attack them with high speed and bouncers

Pakistan’s bowling offense may lead in terms of high tempo, but their batting order shows weaknesses against that and these are likely to be exacerbated by Australian conditions. As of early 2018, Pakistan has averaged just 20 against balls over 140 km/h; The only full member teams that were even worse during this period were Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Ireland. For a team looking to at least drop out of the group, this is a worrying number.

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A closer analysis of Pakistan’s high-tempo racquets reveals that Shadab Khan, Shan Masood, Babar Azam, Mohammad Nawaz and Iftikhar Ahmed all struggle with balls over 140km/h. Mohammad Rizwan in particular is safe, but does not score particularly quickly. Perhaps surprisingly, Khushdil Shah – unlikely to start for Pakistan – has the best record against balls over 140km/h.

Notably, Pakistan also seem to have a problem with short lengths and bouncers in particular – another weakness likely only accentuated by the bouncy Australian finishes. As of early 2018, only Ireland and Zimbabwe have averaged fewer bouncers than Pakistan’s 20.62, and no team has lost more wickets on delivery than Pakistan’s 62. The same trend is evident with more recent sample sizes. The individual records of Haider Ali, Nawaz, Iftikhar and Shadab are worrying again.

Understand when to attack and defend

Pakistan’s batting approach is so extreme that they so reliably lay a platform in the first ten overs before attempting to accelerate in the second half. There are two ways to react to this: either try to subvert strategy and chase early wickets, or play along for the first ten overs and back off to finish them in the second half.

The path teams take depends on their own strengths and weaknesses. India, for example, would probably be best served attacking early with Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Arshdeep Singh and Mohammad Shami as India’s Death Bowling is more vulnerable without Bumrah. On the other hand, South Africa could feel the opposite – relying on staying in the game early on – and potentially exploiting left turns on the power play – before choking them with high pace and bounce in the second half.

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Spin is a defensive option

Spin plays a very interesting role against Pakistan. The heavy right-handed nature of Pakistan’s shots should encourage left arm and leg rotation, but their run rates versus off-spin in particular are the lowest in the world since 2018. The fact that they haven’t dropped spin-on despite being right – Hander dominance indicates that they generally try to outplay the spinners by getting very medium run rates, but as a result very rarely face them.

There are of course nuances on this point: recently Pakistan has started to hit with more intent and feeding an off-spinner to two right-handers remains a risk – like Moeen Ali did recently in Karachi – while Babar has a clear and While Googlies and Asif Ali have issues with wrist rotation, both Googlies and Asif Ali have significant weaknesses, but overall rotation should be viewed as a defensive weapon, with speed and bounce as offensive options.

Pounce on batting order changes

The consistency of Pakistan’s top order should see them adopt a very flexible batting order, shifting entry points depending on how deep the openers have batted. Teams should be aware of this and be prepared to adjust and change bowling plans accordingly. For example, Nawaz has been used successfully as a swimming spin-hitter in the recent Tri series, but has massive high pace and bounce problems: if that happens at the World Cup, a team like South Africa could respond by holding Keshav Maharaj back and with Anrich Nortje as executor. If Pakistan is flexible, bowling teams should be prepared to do the same to avoid the balls losing their strengths.

Choose good players with a high pace

48% of the balls thrown by the pace bowlers in Pakistan’s roster over the last four years have been over 140 km/h – they have the fastest bowling attacks in the competition. Teams facing them need a number of players skilled in high-tempo bowling, ideally in the full batting order. India has excellent coverage in this area: their entire top 5 is represented in the top 15 batsmen versus fast pace batsmen at this World Cup. South Africa also looks in great form with Quinton de Kock and Rilee Rossouw excellent against high pace. The same cannot be said for Bangladesh, who have the worst record against high pace in the tournament.

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Choose Left Handed to aim for right-left spins

Pakistan’s first-choice attack comes down to eight overs from right to left in the front lines of Mohammad Nawaz and Shadab Khan. Both bowlers prefer bowling to right-handers, where they can primarily turn the ball away from the bat. Teams with multiple lefties in their batting order are likely to make these bowlers more difficult to use – especially Nawaz. This, in turn, will likely bring Iftikhar Ahmed into play as a match-up off spinner, so maintaining right and left combos is the most effective way to neutralize Pakistan’s spinners.

India in particular will likely start with an almost exclusively right-handed batting order, leaving Axar Patel as the only left-hander. South Africa and Bangladesh are far better served in this area with lefties throughout the batting order.

Pakistan could get ahead of this problem by choosing Mohammad Wasimr Jr. as a fourth quick in attack, which should make their 20 overs much easier to get through by helping them avoid negative spin match-ups.

Attack the spinners

Attacking the spinners appears to be a key factor in beating Pakistan. Since the start of 2018 in games where Pakistan loses their spinners, an average of 46 runs per wicket compared to an average of 30 quicks.

Freddie Wilde is the Head of Performance Analysis at CricViz.

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