A data-driven strategic guide on how to beat Pakistan.
Aim for slightly above par
Pakistan are the archetypal bowling-heavy team. They have a bowling attack with five excellent options and a match-up spinner as their sixth bowler. Their batting order – with exceptionally consistent openers, and a dynamic, flexible middle-order – is set-up to bang out par totals again and again. The two departments fit together nicely with the batting ensuring the bowling is never out of the game and the bowling ensuring the batting shouldn’t need to chase enormous totals.
Opposition sides should therefore factor this balance into their strategy, recognising that if they are playing Pakistan they need to aim for slightly above-par totals – no mean feat considering the strength of the bowling – because the batting is set-up to chase moderate but not massive scores. Essentially Pakistan prefer lower scoring games because their batting lacks the power to compete consistently when scoring rates get higher.
Attack them with high pace and bouncers
Pakistan’s bowling attack may lead the way in terms of high pace but their batting order shows concerning frailties against it and these are likely to be exacerbated by conditions in Australia. Since the start of 2018 Pakistan average just 20 against balls above 140 kph; the only Full Member teams worse than this in this period are Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Ireland. For a team who have their sights set on at least making it out of the group, this is a concerning number.
Closer analysis of Pakistan’s batters against high pace show that Shadab Khan, Shan Masood, Babar Azam, Mohammad Nawaz and Iftikhar Ahmed all struggle against balls above 140 kph. Notably Mohammad Rizwan is secure against it but doesn’t score particularly quickly. Perhaps surprisingly, Khushdil Shah – who seems unlikely to start for Pakistan – boasts the best record against balls above 140 kph.
Notably, Pakistan also appear to have an issue against short lengths and in particular bouncers – another weakness which is only likely to be accentuated by the bouncy Australian surfaces. Since the start of 2018 only Ireland and Zimbabwe average less against bouncers than Pakistan’s 20.62 and no team has lost more wickets to the delivery than Pakistan’s 62. This same trend is also apparent across more recent sample sizes as well. The individual records of Haider Ali, Nawaz, Iftikhar and Shadab are once again concerning.
Understanding when to attack & defend
Pakistan’s batting approach is so extreme in the way that they so reliably lay a platform in the first ten overs before seeking to accelerate in the second half. There are two ways of responding to this: either you seek to undermine the strategy and hunt for early wickets or you play along with it for the first ten overs and back yourself to shut them down in the second half.
Which path teams adopt will depend on their own strengths and weaknesses. India, for example, would probably be best served looking to attack early with Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Arshdeep Singh and Mohammad Shami because, in the absence of Bumrah, India’s death bowling is more susceptible. South Africa, on the other hand, might feel the opposite – backing themselves to hang in the game early on—potentially utilizing left-arm spin in the Powerplay—before stifling them in the second half with high pace and bounce.
Spin is a defensive option
Spin plays a very interesting role against Pakistan. The right-hander heavy nature of Pakistan’s batting should encourage left-arm spin and leg spin, but notably their run rates against off spin are the lowest in the world since 2018. The fact that they haven’t taken off spin on despite being right-hander dominant is indicative of the fact that generally they look to play out the spinners, scoring at very mid-range run rates, but as a result they very rarely get out against them.
There is nuance to this point of course: recently Pakistan have begun to bat with more intent and feeding an off spinner to two right-handers – as Moeen Ali recently did in Karachi – remains a risk, while Babar has a clear and significant weakness against googlies and Asif Ali does have problems with wrist spin, but on the whole spin should be seen as a defensive weapon, with pace and bounce representing the attacking option.
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 prepared to adapt and change bowling plans accordingly. For example, Nawaz has been employed successfully as a floating spin-hitter in the recent tri-series but has massive issues with high pace and bounce: if this happens in the World Cup a team such as South Africa could respond by holding Keshav Maharaj back and using Anrich Nortje as an enforcer. Essentially if Pakistan are flexible then the bowling teams should be prepared to do the same to avoid feeding batters their strengths.
Pick good players of high pace
48% of balls bowled by the pace bowlers in Pakistan’s squad in the last four years have been above 140 kph – they have the fastest bowling attack in the competition. Teams facing them require a number of players who are adept against high pace bowling, ideally throughout the batting order. India are superbly covered in this area: their entire top five feature in the top 15 strike rates for batters v high pace in this World Cup. South Africa also look in excellent shape: Quinton de Kock and Rilee Rossouw are excellent against high pace. The same can’t be said of Bangladesh who have the worst record against high pace in the tournament.
Pick left-handers to target right-to-left spin
Pakistan’s first choice attack relies on eight overs of frontline right-to-left spin from Mohammad Nawaz and Shadab Khan. Both of these bowlers prefer bowling to right-handers, where they can primarily spin the ball away from the bat. Teams with a number of left-handers in their batting order are likely to complicate the deployment of these bowlers – particularly Nawaz. In turn, this is likely to bring Iftikhar Ahmed into play as the match-up off spinner, so maintaining right and left-hand combinations is the most effective way to neutralize Pakistan’s spinners.
Notably, India are likely to start with an almost entirely right-handed batting order leaving Axar Patel as the sole left-hander. South Africa and Bangladesh are far better catered for in this area with left-handers throughout the batting order.
Pakistan might stay a step ahead of this problem by selecting Mohammad Wasimr Jr as a fourth quick in the attack which should make getting through their 20 overs a lot easier by helping them avoid negative spin match-ups.
Attack the spinners
Attacking the spinners appears to be a key factor to beating Pakistan. Since the start of 2018 in matches that Pakistan lose their spinners average 46 runs per wicket compared to the quicks averaging 30.
Freddie Wilde is Head of Performance Analysis at CricViz.