Pakistan opener Imam-ul-Haq believes it is time for his team to nail down a first-choice XI ahead of the Cricket World Cup 2023.
In spite of Pakistan taking a 3-0 lead in their ODI series against New Zealand on home soil, the left-hander has stressed the need to keep the group consistent, considering the scale of matches and the little time to prepare for their ICC Men's Cricket World Cup 2023 campaign in India.
Pakistan's recent success has partly been down to a prolific top three, with Imam keeping his ODI average above 50, thanks to scores of 60, 24 and 90 in the three New Zealand meetings thus far.
Opening partner Fakhar Zaman is currently enjoying a purple patch of form and is in the running for April's ICC Player of the Month award, while skipper Babar Azam, the no.1 ODI batter in the ICC batting rankings, waits at first drop. Fakhar (second) and Imam (fifth) also feature in the top five of the rankings.
A side-effect of Pakistan's top-order excellence has been a struggle for middle and lower-order players to enjoy time in the middle. Since the 2019 Cricket World Cup batters between No. 4 and No. 7 for Pakistan have averaged just 26.9.
Iftikhar Ahmed and Mohammad Haris wait in the wings, though the opener sympathises with Agha Salman, Shadab Khan and Mohammad Nawaz coming in after him, and suggests that they should keep their places if Pakistan are to build a solid core.
"We don't have time to do experiments," he told reporters after Pakistan's win over New Zealand in the third ODI.
"With Agha (Salman), Shadab (Khan), and (Mohammad) Nawaz, we have enough power-hitting to improvise. It's just a matter of giving them confidence, " added Imam
Before the Asia Cup in September where Pakistan take on India and qualifiers Nepal, Babar's men also have three ODIs against Afghanistan slated for August as per the Future Tours Programme agreement.
For Imam, time is running out for a group desperate to emulate the success of Imran Khan's group in 1992.
"We have only two games left (against New Zealand) and it's really very important to go into a bigger tournament, you have to be settled as much as you can with your main players," Imam said.
"We have less cricket and I don't think we have enough time to find a workaround. Their (middle order) stats aren't as big as we have in the top three and it's tough for them because they get five to six overs but their chip-in is impactful and useful, " added Imam.
Recent results suggest the team may already mount a serious Cricket World Cup title challenge. Cruising to qualification by virtue of a solid Super League campaign, a strong finish to the New Zealand series could result in Pakistan taking the No.1 ODI team ranking.
Imam feels there is little need for extra motivation to perform, not only with a World Cup trophy soon to be on the line, but with the group of Pakistan players on the outside waiting for their chance.
"When you play for Pakistan, you find yourself under pressure in every situation and coming out of it is something that defines you," Imam said.
"It's important to handle pressure and that is where you create a difference. Everyone is very talented and all the new openers making their way into the side are good and it automatically creates a sense of competition within. You always remain on your toes, you have to notch up the level of your performance and keep up your fitness, and with everyone around, it creates healthy competition which is good for the team," added Imam.
Both the fourth and fifth ODIs against New Zealand will be played out in Karachi on Friday and Sunday respectively. (ANI)