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It has been exactly 2021 days since the last T20 World Cup in 2016 that we witnessed. Shahid Afridi was the captain of Pakistan’s 2016 squad that won just one out of its 4 group stage games, while Babar Azam was not a candidate for the selection for that event. After five years, he is one of the best batters globally and leads Pakistan’s squad for the T20 World Cup 2021.
How is the team shaped up?
Pakistan had to make a couple of changes in the squad due to the lack of form of some of the batters and an injury of Sohaib Maqsood – who had done wonders in the PSL 2021. Shoaib Malik replaced Maqsood, while Khushdil Shah, Mohammad Hasnain, and Azam Khan were replaced by Fakhar Zaman, Haider Ali, and Sarfraz Ahmad.
With Rizwan and Babar opening for the team, Pakistan look settled down with this top-order pair. Rizwan has emerged as an outstanding opener and has scored the most number of runs in last year. He is currently at no.7 in the ICC T20 batters’ ranking. His fellow opener and skipper of the side, Babar Azam, is ranked no.2 just below Dawid Malan.
Mohammad Hafeez showed a lot of form and class in the year 2020 where he scored the most number of runs for Pakistan – the same year being the best year of his T20I career. At other positions, Pakistan has tried plenty of players nobody looks to settle.
In the last 3-4 tours, Pakistan wanted two players to settle down at the no.5 and 6, but now, with Maqsood being ruled out of the squad, we don’t know who is Pakistan’s no.3? Fakhar Zaman, Shoaib Malik, Haider Ali, and Asif Ali are other options as Sarfraz is being considered to play only if Rizwan sits down.
Pakistan has gone with two left-arm orthodox spinners in Imad Wasim and Mohammad Nawaz who are quite different from each other and very successful in the UAE conditions. Shadab Khan is the only leg-spin option as Usman Qadir is selected as a traveling reserve. Four pacers in Shaheen Afridi, Hasan Ali, Haris Rauf, and Mohammad Wasim Jr. are selected in the 15 member squad, with Shahnawaz Dhani being in the traveling reserves. Khushdil Shah is also taken as a traveling reserve to replace any batter in case of an injury.
Babar Azam, Mohammad Rizwan, Fakhar Zaman, Haider Ali, Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik, Sarfraz Ahmad, Asif Ali, Shadab Khan, Imad Wasim, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Wasim Junior, Shaheen Afridi, Hasan Ali, Haris Rauf.
Traveling Reserves: Khushdil Shah, Shahnawaz Dhani, Usman Qadir.
The Middle Order of Pakistan
With Shoaib Malik and Fakhar Zaman joining Mohammad Hafeez in the middle order, team management must be lesser pressurized than ever. All of these batters have a good ability to score against spinners. Malik showed good form in the recent National T20 Cup in Rawalpindi and Lahore.
Haider Ali is another option that can be taken as a priority option over Asif Ali at no.6, and if Fakhar or Malik doesn’t win the trust of Matthew Hayden, he plays at no.3 as well. Sarfraz Ahmad is a veteran player, quite handy with the bat in UAE, and his experience of captaincy can help Babar Azam as well in decision making.
On paper, middle-order looks good, and one can confidently say that this is the best we could form, but numbers and history tell a different story. Hafeez and Malik, two 40 years old guns, come up with extra options of spin bowling in the middle overs, but over the years, both have failed to deliver on the big stage. In the last 3 T20 World Cups, Hafeez and Malik average 26.2 and 29.6, respectively.
In T20 cricket, averages don’t matter, but strike rates do. Hafeez played the last 3 T20 World Cups with a strike rate of 99.3 while Malik’s reads 118. The highest score of Shoaib Malik is 40*; he hasn’t scored a single half-century in 13 innings of the last 3 T20 World Cups. In the 2019 World Cup, Pakistan had to replace Shoaib Malik with Haris Rauf due to earlier’s consistent failures in the middle order. That’s why Haider Ali will be considered seriously.
Mohammad Hafeez also disappoints in the ICC tournaments as comes up with just one or two good appearances in the whole tournament. Teams haven’t won tournaments like this. Big players perform on the big days. Sarfraz lacks the six-hitting ability, while Asif Ali has lost the confidence of his fans and admirers. T20 World Cup 2021 can be a big occasion for him to win it back.
Who will Finish for Pakistan?
No.5’6 and 7 are where the core plays. Both India and England have their core settled at these numbers. Pakistan’s core is in the top 4, and there will be a lot of uncertainty regarding the result if it will up to below the no.4. Asif Ali or Haider Ali, one is going to be at no.6 as the finisher. Both can smash the white ball but lack the history and numbers behind them.
Imad Wasim has both of these. He averages quite high in the death overs and has proved himself as a finisher so many times. But how will he perform against the likes of Bumrah, Shami, and Boult, is yet to be seen?
Shadab Khan is also quite focused on his batting but lacks any power-hitting ability required to score against quality bowlers. Another issue with Pakistan’s batting is the lack of unorthodox shots. Other than Imad Wasim, other players don’t play those as well, and against quality bowlers, cricketing shots only become a limitation of the batsman. Many players are too dangerous due to their unorthodox shots around the 360° angle.
Pakistan will not lose due to their bowling, and it’s always going to be their batting that may lose games. We can say this quite confidently, but in the last year and a half, there were games where Pakistani bowlers lost games. Against England in the UK this summer and earlier as well, Pakistan could not defend totals as big as 200. Both Haris Rauf and Shadab Khan have gone for plenty of runs, and the former could not provide breakthroughs in the middle overs. This is where Usman Qadir should have been considered seriously, and that is where Pakistan could have to think about selecting Shahnawaz Dhani as well.
Due to his too much focus on batting, Shadab Khan looked off-color as a bowler. He hasn’t looked much threatening and can not bring as many variations as other leg spinners as Usman Qadir do. Management has selected both Nawaz and Imad Wasim in the final 15. If Qadir was preferred over any of these two, selection would have been quite logical.
A spot for Shahnawaz Dhani in the final 15 could have eased Babar Azam’s job. The skipper could have played Dhani for Haris Rauf. Latter’s form is not a good sign. Rauf lacked discipline and consistency in his bowling, and with Dhani emerging as the best fast bowler of the PSL6 and NT20 Cup 2021, the replacement looked easy.
How the team will perform in the T20 World Cup?
How Pakistan will perform in the T20 World Cup 2021 is a million-dollar question, and its answer is not difficult. At least, it’s easy for me to predict Pakistan. “Predictably unpredictable” is what can define them the best.
Currently, Pakistan has four players who can enter into the final XI of any side of the world. Rizwan, Babar, Shaheen, and Hasan Ali form the core of this side and if these four perform, the results will be good for the whole side. To win tournaments, you need a character from every player.
Malik and Hafeez would be playing their last ICC tournament – both being 40 years old and Ramiz Raja being the Chairman PCB, it is on the cards. They must play the tournament of their lives. Haider Ali, Asif Ali, Shadab Khan, Fakhar Zaman, and Haris Rauf – They are playing their first T20 World Cup. They must give their 200%.
This is a different Pakistan, it has a young captain in Babar Azam and many players are playing their first T20 World Cup. T20 World Cup 2021 is an ICC T20 World Cup after a gap of 5 years, almost every team has changed dramatically in 5 years. Pakistan also must change now and become a consistently performing team to win the hearts of its people and cricket fans around the globe.