Pakistan Must Shed Their 'Unpredictable' Tag To Fly High in 2022 T20 World Cup
Pakistan recently announced a 15-member squad that will feature at the multi-nation event in Australia next month.
With the T20 World Cup in Australia on the cards, it is high time the men in green shed the tag that has seen them bite the dust numerous times in the past.
Unpredictability is a term that has often been associated with the Pakistan team over the course of cricketing history, be it to their advantage or otherwise.
In the Asia Cup final, the latter was at prominence as they lost the plot against a resilient Sri Lankan side that displayed synergy when it mattered the most.
Whether it was Pakistan's inability to handle pressure during crunch situations or their mental frailty that brought about their downfall, the defeat raises questions that need answering, sooner rather than later.
The thought would certainly have crossed the minds of the Pakistan team management and board, who recently announced a 15-member squad that will represent their nation Down Under.
Regardless of the final loss, the Pakistanis named a squad quite similar to the one that featured in the Asia Cup with a tweak in the batting ranks, and most importantly, the return of key bowler Shaheen Shah Afridi.
Star pacer Afridi's comeback would be a definite confidence booster for the side who have not laid their hands on the coveted World Cup trophy since 2009.
Boasting a winner's trophy, a runner-up spot, and three semi-final appearances to their name, Pakistan have been one of the most dominant units to have competed in the ICC's multi-nation event.
As the mega event approaches close, let's take an in-depth analysis of the Pakistan squad led by captain Babar Azam.
Prolific Opening Pair
Pakistan have one of the most solid opening duos in Mohammad Rizwan and Babar Azam. The two have been pillars of their success for over a year now, a sample of which can be traced back to the 2021 World Cup fixture against India.
Rizwan and Babar put on a mesmerising show with the willow, steering their side to a massive ten-wicket and ending Pakistan's World Cup jinx against their neighbours and arch-nemesis.
The pair etched their names in the history books as Pakistan had never won a game against India in the World Cup prior to this, having failed five times in T20Is and 13 across formats respectively.
Wicket-keeper Rizwan has continued his sensational run ever since, winning the 2021 ICC men's T20I cricketer of the year to being the highest run-getter in recently concluded the Asia Cup.
With 281 runs from six games, including three half-centuries, the 30-year-old finished on top of the batting charts and is currently the No. 1 T20 batter according to ICC rankings.
However, Babar has not been as fortunate as his partner. In fact, the Pakistan skipper was the best batter in the shortest format leading into the Asia Cup.
The continental event proved to be catastrophic to his own standards as he flattered to deceive, managing just 68 runs from six matches at a poor average of 11.33.
The 27-year-old's poor form meant that he also suffered a dip in the rankings, falling from second to fourth in less than a month's time.
Though their star player's Asia Cup form raises a few doubts heading into the World Cup, it might be not be too late before he regains his touch. He has already dispelled his critics with an unbeaten ton in the second T20I against England at home.
The seven-match T20I series against England and the tri-series in New Zealand later on will offer the skipper the perfect platform to prepare himself before the World Cup.
Middle Order Instability
One of Pakistan's major causes of bother will be the instability of their batting middle order. The likes of Khushdil Shah, Iftikhar Ahmed, and Asif Ali have all been retained despite their underwhelming displays in the Asia Cup.
Of the three, Iftikhar has scored the most in 2022 with 146 runs from eight matches, while Khushdil has 87 from as many matches, and Asif the least with 44 in seven games.
Asif, who dons the role of a finisher due to his power-hitting abilities, was a shadow of himself at the Asia Cup, managing just 41 runs off six matches.
Though inconsistency in the middle presents an alarming state of affairs, the selectors have put their faith in the three, thereby offering continuity within the squad.
Notable Exclusion and Surprise Inclusion
One notable exclusion in the middle order is Fakhar Zaman. The second-most experienced batter in the team with 71 T20I caps faced the axe as he got relegated to the travelling reserves alongside Mohammad Haris and Shahnawaz Dahani. And the reasons are valid.
The 32-year-old had a disastrous Asia Cup wherein he hit just 96 runs in six games. His poor average of 16 in the event, coupled with the knee injury he sustained during the summit clash, aggravated his case for a place within the final-15.
The southpaw's exclusion, however, opened the doors for another left-hander in Shan Masood. The 32-year-old earned his maiden T20I call-up and recently made his Pakistan debut in the first T20I against England.
He scored just seven runs, but with five more games lined up, Pakistan have ample time to assess his potential.
In the domestic arena, Masood, though, is a proven performer with plenty of experience playing in the shortest format. To date, he has featured in 118 T20 matches and accumulated 3003 runs, which includes one hundred and 20 fifties.
Surprisingly, Pakistan also included young batter Haider Ali who has played all but once this year in the squad. Ali was part of Pakistan's Asia Cup team but spent his time warming the benches.
However, there is no denying the talent of the 21-year-old who hit a fifty on his T20I debut – the first Pakistani to do so – back in September 2020 against England.
In Mohammad Nawaz and Shadab Khan, Pakistan have two handy all-rounders who can chip in as and when required by the team. A clear example of this was during Pakistan's Asia Cup Super 4 tie against India when the team management decided to promote Nawaz to the No. 4 role.
A lower order batter in general, Nawaz threw the kitchen sink at the Indian bowlers, racing to a quickfire 42 off 25 deliveries and putting his side on the front foot.
Pakistan eventually won the game and the 28-year-old was rightfully adjudged as the player of the match for his crucial knock and 1/25 from four overs.
Afridi's absence was not felt significantly, thanks to the experienced Haris Rauf and teenage sensation Naseem Shah, who discharged their duties with aplomb.
A prolific turner of the ball, Shadab, meanwhile, uses his leg breaks to perfection. The vice-captain contributes to his side by giving them crucial breakthroughs, like his impressive 4/8 against Hong Kong in the group stage.
The 23-year-old also combined well with Nawaz during the entirety of the tournament, controlling the flow of runs during the middle overs. Nawaz’s economy of 5.89 and Shadab's 6.05 are eye-catching figures that make them definite choices within any T20 side.
Obvious gamechangers, the duo function as X factor players for Pakistan, something the team would love them to continue in the days to come.
Fiery Pace Pack and Shaheen's Return
There seems to be no dearth of bowling talent, especially in the pace department when it comes to Pakistan.
From Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Shoaib Akhtar to Mohammad Asif, Mohammad Amir, and most recently Shaheen Afridi, Pakistan has offered cricket some of the best in the business. Pace has always been Pakistan's primary strength, be it in any corner of the world.
They have hand-picked six pacers for Australia, keeping in mind the hard pitches that offer bounce and speed.
The pacers will be led by left-arm seamer Afridi, who made a return to the side after being sidelined in the Asia Cup due to an ligament injury sustained during the Test series against Sri Lanka in July.
The towering Afridi has undoubtedly been Pakistan's best bowler in the past one year. His 3/31 against India in the last World Cup still stays fresh in the minds of cricketing fans.
The 22-year-old is currently undergoing rehab but will be seen in action early next month, according to chief selector Muhammad Wasim.
Heading into the World Cup, Afridi will be well complemented by Rauf, who has the ability to clock 150 kmph on a regular basis, making him a natural fit for the Australian conditions.
Not just pace, Rauf is also blessed with excellent wicket-taking abilities as evident from the 10 wickets he grabbed this year out of a total nine matches – eight of which came at the Asia Cup.
However, it was 19-year-old Naseem that was the find of the tournament for Pakistan. The right-arm seamer raised eyebrows with his pace and swing, finishing the event with seven scalps from five games.
The trio of Shaheen, Rauf, and Naseem would probably be the side's obvious first-choice pacers, but Mohammad Wasim, Mohammad Hasnain, and Usman Qadir are equally potent.
In the four Asia Cup matches he was selected, Hasnain picked four wickets while Qadir nabbed one in his only match of the tournament. However, Wasim, who was in the squad earlier was ruled out due to an injury.
It would be premature to voice an opinion on Pakistan's squad because cricket is ultimately a game of ebbs and flows. However, it would be equally fatuous to write them off given the tag of unpredictability that they possess.
Only time will tell if the Falcons can soar higher than the rest when they touchdown Down Under.
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