T20 World Cup: ‘Cornered Tigers’ ready to roar again

Arslan SheikhSports Editor

22nd Oct, 2021. 07:46 pm
T20 World Cup: ‘Cornered Tigers’ ready to roar again

India vs Pakistan. Photo courtesy: Behance

Pakistan are not entering the International Cricket Council (ICC) T20 World Cup with a favourite tag. Actually, if recent years’ performance is anything to go by, they are nowhere near being labelled as the favourites to lift the trophy.

However, they are one side that no one dares to write off. The world is aware of their unpredictability or in better words, you can say everyone knows their potential to turn any situation in their favour.

The Men-in-Green are placed in Group 2 alongside the arch-rivals India, New Zealand, Afghanistan and Bangladesh and Scotland, who booked their place after playing the qualifying round.

Pakistan have been quite a decent unit in the 20-over format over the years where they have played 177 games — the most number of matches by any team — winning 106 and losing 63 contests, maintaining an impressive success of rate of 62.50 per cent.

Moreover, they have been quite consistent in the T20 World Cups as well. Shaheens were the runner ups in 2007, champions in 2009 and semi-finalists in 2010 and 2012.

However, they could not put up a significant show in the last two tournaments, only managing to advance to the second round of the tournament.

They did not have the ideal circumstances to prepare for the mega-event this time around as well.

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) is clearly in a bit of turmoil after the arrival of new chairman Ramiz Raja.

The coaching staff was shuffled, the international cricket community ditched them and there were last-minute changes in the squad.

Chairman, coaching saga

As the T20 World Cup approached, the drama started to unfold in the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB). All over the world, sports federations and governing bodies look for stability ahead of any key event. However, this is not the case in Pakistan where authorities aimed to revamp the PCB structure at the most sensitive of times.

Just a couple of months before the start of the event, on August 28, former chairman Ehsan Mani resigned from his post. He was replaced by cricketer-turned-commentator Ramiz Raja, who was elected as the new boss unopposed.

If it was just a change of the chairman, it probably would not have been that grave of a situation for the team, but Raja looked to bring an entire team that complemented his vision.

Raja did not have much praise for the coaching duo of Misbah Ul Haq and Waqar Younis during his time as a commentator where on numerous occasions, especially on his YouTube channel, he criticised the management for the lack of attacking approach.

Therefore, it was expected that the head coach and the bowling coach would be sacked as soon as the former captain will take up the post. As a result, Misbah and Waqar anticipated the move and stepped down from the post voluntarily on September 6.

After the departure of the coaching pair, the PCB named Pakistan’s former spin wizard Saqlain Mushtaq and dynamic all-rounder Abdul Razzaq as the interim coaches for the home series against New Zealand and England. However, they never really had a chance to work with the team as both the foreign teams cancelled their respective tours.

International betrayal

The Green Caps were to play three ODIs and five T20Is against the Blackcaps in their backyard, following a two-match Twenty20 series against England, both historic in nature because both teams were coming in the country after more than 15 years.

These two campaigns were extremely important for the Pakistan cricket team as well to prepare for the ICC T20 World Cup.

However, the Black Caps, just before the start of the first ODI of the series, decided to cancel the tour on the basis of ‘security concerns’, while England ‘reluctantly pulled out’ from the tour, citing their players’ well-being.

The abandonment of these two series does not only dent Pakistan’s plans for the mega-event, but it also impacted players morally and mentally.

Appointment of Hayden, Philander

As Raja took charge of the PCB, he named Australian legend Matthew Hayden and former South Africa’s  fast-bowler Vernon Philander as the batting and bowling consultant of the team for the T20 World Cup, respectively. Meanwhile, Saqlain Mushtaq was given the responsibilities of the head coach.

Since the day Misbah and Waqar resigned, which looked like a forced resignation, the move was criticised by many, saying that it was not the right time to tweak the coaching staff.

However, seeing from another aspect, the move might prove to be a blessing in disguise for the team as Pakistan had a horrendous run in T20Is in Misbah’s tenure.

Pakistan’s batting has struggled big time in the last two years, or to be specific under Misbah’s coaching, as it depicted the negative and defensive batting approach that is often associated with the former skipper’s ‘Tuk Tuk’ style.

In the last two years, Pakistan batsmen have managed to score at a rate of 8.17 per over, which is only better than Australia, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka among the full ICC Members.

In contrast, England, West Indies and India have managed to score at 9.05, 8.69 and 8.68 runs per over in the last two years.

Similarly, the Men-in-Green have struggled to post big scores on the board. Teams like England, India and even Afghanistan have average inning scores of 170, 169 and 163 in the last two years, respectively, as compared to Pakistan’s meagre average of 156. Again, Only Australia, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are below Pakistan with an average score 153, 131 and 125, respectively.

Seeing Pakistan’s numbers during the last couple of years, the appointment of a hard-hitting batsman of his era as the batting consultant can prove to be a game-changer for the team. If Hayden is able to instil his positive mindset in the team, they can score quicker and higher in the all-important competition.

Strengths

Playing conditions:

The T20I festival is being organised in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which has been Pakistan’s second home for a long time and all the players have some experience of playing in those conditions.

They have played their home series as well as a couple of editions of the glittery Pakistan Super League (PSL) there. Therefore, the players are well-familiar with the playing conditions.

Pakistan have played 36 games in the UAE between 2009 and 2018 and won 21 of them. The numbers show that they have been a force to reckon with in those venues. Moreover, the playing conditions also favour the bowling and batting style of the Shaheens.

They lack that typical modern-style batters, who go all guns blazing from the word go. The games in the UAE are usually low-scoring. This style of play suits Pakistan as they have players like Babar Azam, Mohammad Rizwan and Shoaib Malik in the ranks who like to stick to the wicket and keep the scoreboard ticking. Posting bigger scores and especially chasing mammoth totals is just not Pakistan’s cup of tea.

Spin Bowling:

Pakistan have a handful of quality and wily spinning options in the team that can come in handy on the UAE’s slow and turning wickets. For instance, Imad Wasim, who often bowls during the powerplay can curtail the flow of runs early in the inning. He maintains an outstanding economy rate of just 6.14 when the fielding restrictions are applied.

Imad is a very clever campaigner, who heavily depends on his accuracy and drifters. He has played 52 games so far and taken 51 wickets at an outstanding economy rate of 6.40. Surprisingly, he concedes runs at a slower rate during powerplays.

On the other hand, the left-arm slow bowler has magical figures of 18 wickets in 11 games while playing in the UAE with a jaw-dropping economy rate of just 5.50. His only five-for in the international T20s has also come in the UAE.

Moving on, the 2009 World Champions have the services of the veteran all-rounders, Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik, who can roll their arms whenever the team needs them and exploit the conditions.

Hafeez has been extremely effective in the 20-over format, having an economy rate of 6.54, hunting 60 batsmen in the 113 games. He is even a lethal weapon for Babar Azam in the UAE as the maestro has hunted 14 batsmen in 27 games and has leaked runs at merely an economy rate of 6.12.

The 41-year-old is a dynamic bowler who can operate both in the powerplay and the middle overs, which give his captain more freedom to rotate his bowlers.

Apart from Malik and Hafeez, Pakistan have two more spinners in the ranks, Mohammad Nawaz and Shadab Khan.

Both can not only keep things relatively tight but also claim important wickets when the team needs them the most. All in all, Pakistan have a good enough spin attack that can tie any opposition on a slow track.

Fast bowling:

Moreover, Pakistan also have competent pace bowling. Their left-arm pacer Shaheen Shah Afridi is often rated as one of the best fast-bowlers on the international circuit.

The 21-year-old bowler from FATA is a genuine wicket-taker with the new ball courtesy of his in-swinging deliveries and accuracy.

Moreover, he is effective in the death overs as well with his toe-crushing yorkers and slow deliveries.

Shaheen, bowling at crucial stages of the game, during the powerplay and the death overs, has a decent economy rate of 8.17 while he has hunted 32 batsmen in 30 games.

Another integral part of Pakistan’s bowling arsenal is the right-arm speedster, Hasan Ali. He is not a typical tear away Pakistani fast-bowler; however, he is clever with his choice of deliveries and reads batsmen’s plans well. His never-give-up attitude is something that makes him special.

He has so far played 41 20-over games wearing Greens where he has taken 52 wickets with an economy rate of 8.29. The duo can be extremely useful for the team in the UAE.

The third part of the Green Team’s pace battery is Haris Rauf. Rauf is all pace and he is all over the place. He is effective, but…

Curious case of Haris Rauf

The fierce fast-bowler Rauf is an interesting pick for Pakistan. He has been in the T20I scene since he represented Melbourne Stars in the Australia’s Big Bash League (BBL).

Rauf has given the fans and the team bittersweet moments. He is an asset, yet he is a liability. Much confused?

The 27-year-old has been Pakistan’s highest wicket-taker in the international 20-over games by a margin since he made his debut. Rauf has claimed 28 wickets in 23 games. The next best for Pakistan is their ace pacer Shaheen who has got 18 scalps in 20 contests.

However, when it comes to Rauf, he has been a run-leaking machine as well. Though he strikes on regular intervals, he concedes runs at an embarrassing rate of 8.94 runs per over. Thus, Rauf becomes a difficult bowler for the captain to manage.

He is a great inclusion in the side as he is a wicket-taker, but he is extremely expensive that can neutralise the advantage that the team gets with his wickets.

Rock-solid opening pair

Arguably, Pakistan have the most reliable opening pair in the 20-over cricket at the moment. Both the openers, Mohammad Rizwan and captain Babar Azam are the highest run-getters in 2021 with 752 and 523, respectively, in 17 matches. Rizwan is maintaining a mammoth average of 94 runs, while Babar’s average has been 37.35 in 2021.

Moreover, contrary to what many believe that Rizwan and Babar are slow scorers, they are scoring at an astounding strike rate of 140.03 and 132.74, respectively.

Their individual brilliance is also reflected in their partnerships as they have become the most prolific opening pair for Pakistan in the T20s.

The duo has opened the inning 13 times in the last 12 months and has contributed 736 runs together with an outstanding average of 56.61. They have provided three century stands and two 50 partnerships at the top of the order. Such an amazing start can put any team in a commanding position against any opposition.

The next best batting pair in the world during the period has been Ireland’s Paul Stirling and Kevin’O Brien who have scored together 448 runs in 12 innings.

Weaknesses

Fragile middle-order

Pakistan have been facing middle-order crises for long. In only last 15 months, the Men-In-Green have tried more than a dozen batters in the middle-order including Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik, Fakhar Zaman, Azam Khan, Asif Ali, Sohaib Maqsood, Haider Ali, Shadab Khan and Iftikhar Ahmed to name a few. But, none of them have provided the kind of stability Pakistan need.

Pakistan batting heavily depends on the Babar-Rizwan combo to post big runs on the scoreboard. Apart from the openers, the next highest run-scorer for the team has been Hafeez with 282 runs in 19 innings, which includes a score of 99 not out. The destructive left-handed batsman Fakhar has only managed to put on 228 runs in 16 innings since October 2020 and the young talented batsman Haider has contributed 202 in 14 innings.

Meanwhile, Malik, who was included in the squad in place of the injured Maqsood, has not played a single game for the national side since August 2020. Furthermore, Asif has played four games during the span and scored just 13 runs before he was dropped from the side.

The fans will be looking towards the experienced duo of Malik and Hafeez and explosive batsmen Haider and Fakhar to give Pakistan the kind of totals that they need to win major games.

Shadab’s declined form

Shadab Khan was Pakistan’s new love affair when he made his international debut in 2017. He was an excellent spinner with a bamboozling googly, a decent batter, a gun fielder and an extremely confident cricketer.

Who can forget that big DRS call in the final of the Champions Trophy against Yuvraj Singh? He made the whole nation or maybe the whole cricket fraternity his fan.

Seeing the potential, he became an automatic selection for the think tank in limited over cricket and was elevated to the position of vice-captain.

However, he somewhat failed to live up to his potential, at least as of now. He had a few injury concerns and he lost his mojo, not contributing with either the bat or the ball.

He was incredible in his starting year, but since October 2019, his form has taken a serious dip. Shadab has impressive numbers with 58 scalps against his name in 53 games at an economy rate of only 7.40.

However, things took an ugly turn in 2019 and since then, he has taken only 12 wickets in 18 games and leaked runs at 8.40 runs per over.

Fans and critiques have been voicing to replace Shadab with Usman Qadir, but the former is still an automatic selection in the limited over cricket.

Players to watch out

Pakistan have a few pretty exciting players in the line-up who can win games on their own. However, here are the three players that can be proved to be match-winning for the team.

Imad Wasim:

The left-arm slow bowler is an essential weapon of Pakistan’s bowling arsenal. He has played 52 20-over games so far with the star on his chest and has dismissed 51 batsmen.

But his actual strength for the team is in the powerplays where he is deadly accurate and leaks no runs in the first few overs.

The 32-year-old ties the opposition’s batsmen and give his team a chance to take early wickets as well.

However, once the ball gets a bit old, he loses his drift and can become an easier option for the batsmen to attack him.

Moreover, he is more than handy with the in the lower middle-order. He hit some lusty blows and add a few crucial runs that can prove to be the difference between the opposition and the Pakistan team.

In the 2019 World Cup, he proved that he can be a finisher for the team in the game against Afghanistan, where he scored 49 runs off 54 deliveries. On the slow turning wickets of the UAE, Imad can be immensely effective for the Green Caps.

Hasan Ali:

Hasan Ali is one of the most utility cricketers in the Pakistan ranks. The fast-bowler is habitual of giving his team breakthroughs at key moments of the games.

Hasan was phenomenal for Pakistan in the Champions Trophy where he emerged as the highest wicket-taker of the tournament with 13 victims.

The 27-year-old is a strong character in the T20 format as well. He is extremely clever with his change of pace, use of yorkers and bouncers, and curtailing scoring-rate as well as taking wickets.

The right-arm pacer has shown sent 52 batters back to the dressing room in 41 matches. He also maintains a respectable economy rate of 8.29.

Furthermore, he can be dangerous with the bat as well as he can contribute some quick runs at the back end of the inning that can benefit his unit big time. He averages 17 with the bat but when he scores, he scores at a flabbergasting strike-rate of 188.88.

The man is also a decent fielder and a complete team player. Any captain would be glad to have him in the playing XI, let alone Babar Azam.

Fakhar Zaman:

After the batting duo of Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan, Fakhar Zaman is probably the most prolific batsman in the line-up.

Zaman, who had lit the Cardiff in the final of the Champions Trophy, is able enough to lead Pakistan to another glory.

The former Pakistan Navy sailor can be deadly for spinners. The left-handed explosive batsman maintains a healthy strike rate of 150 against slow bowlers in the T20Is.

All the teams in the tournament will be heavily relying on the spinning department, therefore, the teams with good players will most likely dominate the contests.

If Fakhar fires for Pakistan, he will leave little room for the opposition to escape his onslaught.

Recent form

Pakistan’s recent run in the T20Is has not been much impressive as they won nine out of the 17 games played in 2021, while three matches against the West Indies were washed out.

These numbers do not depict the true picture as Pakistan won five out of seven contests against a much-weaker South African side, won a series by 2-1 against Zimbabwe who are not even participating in the ICC T20 World Cup, lost 2-1 to a second-tier England squad and won a game against the West Indies.

Pakistan were deprived of seven important T20Is as New Zealand and England, who were to play five and two matches in their backyard, respectively, backed away from their tours. Had the Men-In-Green faced the World Cup winners and World Test Championship winners, they would have prepared better for the mega-event.

What to expect

It is hard to predict what to expect from Pakistan. No one knows which Pakistan will turn up in the ground, the self-destructive one or the one that destroy the opposition.

Having said that, Pakistan could not be written off completely. Whether anyone agrees or not, they are a contender for the title, and to some extent a strong one.

India and probably West Indies are wearing the favourites badge in the tournament. However, if they do not go on to win the campaign, then Pakistan can be a stronger candidate to lift the trophy than England, New Zealand and Australia.

The 50-over world champions are playing without their key all-rounder Ben Stokes and strike bowler Jofra Archer.

New Zealand look decent on paper but they will be heavily relying on their captain Kane Williamson, which might prove to be a problem against good bowling oppositions.

Talking of Australia, they have not been the Mighty Aussies in the shortest format of the game. They have failed to imitate their dominance of Test and ODI cricket in the 20-over games.

Yes, Australia can never be taken lightly and the Kangaroos must be hungry for the T20 title as it is the only trophy that is missing from their vast collection.

Moreover, all these teams do not have quality spinners in their line-up that can exploit the slow nature of the wickets in the UAE.

It is also a fact that English, New Zealanders and Australians do not have the reputation of being the best players of spin in the world.

They are likely to struggle against teams with good spinning department such as Pakistan, India and Afghanistan.

So, it will not be an overstatement if we rate Pakistan as the third favourites, after India and Windies, to win their second T20 World Cup title.

The Green Caps have played loads of cricket in the UAE, they are well-aware of the playing conditions.

Moreover, the slow tracks, the outfield, the low scoring games and the climate, all suit Pakistan and their style of play.

They have all the ingredients to become the T20 World Champions and it will surely be the most fitting reply to the international cricket community and those powers who tried to isolate Pakistan.

Many believe that Pakistan do not stand a chance to even reach the semi-final of the tournament; however, it will not be a surprise if Pakistan blow away all the opponents and stand as the champions on November 14 in Dubai.

For all the latest updates on ICC World T20 2021 – Follow: https://www.bolnews.com/sports/cricket/series/t20-world-cup-2021