Asif Ali makes strong case for World Cup inclusion

That Pakistan lack power-hitting, an integral ingredient for success in modern-day cricket, has long been at the fore of every discourse surrounding the team. It came up, again, last month when they announced their preliminary squad for the World Cup.
Over the years, Pakistan have desperately searched for batsmen who can match the current standards of the one-day format. It has seen them play Sharjeel Khan, despite questions over his fitness, until he brought dishonor upon himself and bring back Umar Akmal, previously discarded by this administration for flimsy work ethic and a fallout with the head coach, for their last ODI assignment, a five-match series against Australia in the UAE.
This desperation, after all, is not unsubstantiated. Prior to the second ODI against England, Pakistan, since the ICC Champions Trophy in 2017, have had a run-rate of 5.26, the fourth worst (behind Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan) amongst the teams participating in the World Cup. If their matches against Zimbabwe and Hong Kong are discarded, it stood at 4.88.So, to have a final look at the batsman who promised to be the panacea for this ill, Pakistan took Asif Ali to the UK as a part of the group from which the final 15 for the World Cup is to be churned out. But there were questions over to what extent Pakistan could rely on him.
Since his induction in the Pakistan’s one-day setup for the tour of Zimbabwe last year, Asif has fallen short of being a batsman he promised to be after an impressive PSL 2018, in which his strike rate hovered around 215 in the death overs. In his eight ODI innings (before this game), Asif had scored 200 runs at a strike rate over a shade below 131, the best for a Pakistan batsman since the 2017 Champions Trophy. But, it was his average of 28 and an inconsistent run that put a question on whether he deserved to be at this stage.
A string of low scores – which included 9, 7, 30, and 31 in the Asia Cup, and a 9 off 9 against New Zealand in the third ODI – resulted in his axing from the squad for an away ODI series against South Africa. But after Akmal failed to deliver in the five matches against Australia in the UAE, Pakistan went back to Asif.A long discussion between England captain Eoin Morgan and David Willey, when the latter was about to begin his last spell on Saturday amidst a nail-biting chase, hinted that the gamble might reap fruits. Willey’s second ball further consolidated the notion as Asif clubbed him, on a ball pitched in the slot, straight down the ground for the maximum. The stroke brought Pakistan 63 runs close to a mammoth 374-run target with as many as 40 balls at their disposal.
That Pakistan now were serious contenders to chase down the target astounded many. After all they weren’t supposed to be anywhere near it, considering they had crossed the 300-run mark only five times, on three instances against Zimbabwe and once each against South Africa (317/6) and Australia (307/7), prior to this game since the final of the Champions Trophy.After replacing Fakhar Zaman at the crease at the beginning of the 34th over, Asif ensured that his side doesn’t lose the crucial momentum which the left-handed batsman had provided with a scorching 138 off 106 balls. Facing only his fifth ball, the 27-year-old smoked Adil Rashid for a flat six over cow-corner with a slog-sweep. Two balls later, he charged down the ground and smashed Moeen Ali’s off-spinner for another maximum over long-on. By the end of the next over, in which he spanked Rashid’s loopy delivery over wide long-on for his third six, Asif had 25 runs to his name off just 14 balls. After a lull of three overs, which saw Haris Sohail slice one in the air for an easy catch to be taken by Jonny Bairstow of Liam Plunkett, Asif struck Plunkett and Woakes for a four each in successive overs before Morgan brought Willey back into the attack.