The Pakistan cricket team of 2022 has a compact top order, impact all-rounders, finishers, clever spinners, and robust fast bowlers. Every player is clear about their roles, which is one of the prime reasons they will play the Asia Cup T20 final against Sri Lanka in Dubai on Sunday.
India beat Bangladesh in 2016 and 2018 to rule the roost, while Pakistan 2.0 was in the making. The T20 World Cup in October 2021 was the start of something new.
They were the favourites to win the title after beating India by ten wickets in the first match but lost to Australia in the semi-final. The cricketing brain of head coach Saqlain Mushtaq and the leadership skills of Babar Azam transformed Pakistan in 11 months.
What makes Pakistan dangerous now is their ability to win games even when superstar Babar, the top-scorer of the last T20 World Cup with 303 runs, is out of form. His teammates have blurred the failures by stepping up in times of trouble.
All-rounders in the House
Mohammad Rizwan, the ICC No 1 T20I batter, leads the impact player department. He is an agile wicket-keeper and an aggressive opener who likes to finish games.
Rizwan scored two crucial fifties – 78 not out against Hong Kong and 71 to snatch the game from India – to hold one end, as the aggregate of Babar read 33 runs in four outings at an average of 8.25 and a strike rate of 117.85. The T20I batting average of Rizwan (52.05) is higher than that of India's Virat Kohli (51.94) due to his consistency.
Rizwan set the platform for Mohammad Nawaz to express himself. The left-handed batter scored 42 off 20, dismissed Suryakumar Yadav with his left-arm spin bowling, and took three catches to earn the player of the match award.
Nawaz turned heads with the ball by claiming eight wickets in four games to lead the bowling charts. The 3/33 against India in the opening match underlined his tricks. He followed it up with another three-wicket haul (3/5) to break the Hong Kong middle-order.
Khushdil Shah and Iftikhar Ahmed are in the side for their batting, but they can roll an arm if required.
Khushdil had a 35-ball 100 in Pakistan's National T20 Cup, and it was no surprise to see him smash 35 off 15 against Hong Kong in Sharjah. He also scored 14 crucial runs to send India packing after Asif Ali's usual heroics.
On the other hand, Iftikhar's 30 off 33 against Afghanistan provided stability in the must-win encounter.
Ali is a situational batter. He did not score big runs but played his role to perfection by striking at 200 for his two knocks of 16 off eight balls against India and Afghanistan. Since Pakistan was chasing in both the games, Ali's firepower in the death overs narrowed the gap between run and ball.
Shadab Khan's vicious leg-spin kept all batters on a leash. The vice-captain picked up seven wickets thus far, including handsome figures of 4/8 against Hong Kong.
He batted at No 5 against Afghanistan and top-scored with 36 off 26.
"Our management has promoted our bowlers to bat a bit because you don't know what situation will come in a game. Our bowlers also have the calibre to finish games with the bat," Khan revealed the strategy Pakistan has been undertaking to get the better of teams such as England, Australia, India, and New Zealand in the upcoming T20 World Cup in Australia.
Shadab is also one of the finest fielders.
Naseem, Rauf, Hasnain Trio
Fast bowler Naseem Shah strictly followed the advice of the management and swung his bat confidently to smash two sixes to break innumerable Afghan hearts in Sharjah on Wednesday.
Pakistan was 110/8, requiring 20 off 10 when the teenager walked in to bat. He became the first No 10 batter to finish a match with two sixes.
Naseem stepped up with the new ball to dismiss top batters such as KL Rahul, Suryakumar Yadav, Deepak Hooda, and Mohammad Nabi.
Haris Rauf is the master of the death overs. The lanky fast bowler choked the runs in the Super 4 and picked up three wickets in the two clashes with India and Afghanistan.
Even Kohli was all praises for him. "He nailed those slower balls and yorkers, and when you execute with that pace, it's always difficult to get it away," Kohli had said.
Fresh from his experience at The Hundred, Mohammad Hasnain supported Naseem and Rauf in his two appearances, where he ended up with one wicket each.
Babar was on a roll in the lead-up to the Asia Cup. He scored two fifties and a hundred in the red-ball tour of Sri Lanka. And three ODI fifties against The Netherlands in Rotterdam. The bat stopped talking after landing in the United Arab Emirates, but he is not worried.
"It is not written that I will score runs in every match. Ups and downs are part of cricket. During that phase, it’s necessary to have self-belief," he was quoted as saying by Cricket Pakistan.
Babar will eventually return to form, but in this lull phase, he has silently developed a cricket team which has the potential to thrash the giants in major tournaments.
Pakistan has turned the clock backward in the Asia Cup to remember the times when they would beat every team in the UAE, when they nurtured all-rounders such as Abdul Razzaq and Azhar Mahmood, back in the day.
The missing flavour seems to be back.
(Wriddhaayan Bhattacharyya is an independent sports journalist based in Kolkata. He enjoys playing multiple sports when not reporting on it.)