Transition is a tricky phase in world cricket, and it takes time. Pakistan had a stressful T20 World Cup, despite playing with a lot of heart, their first two losses against India and Zimbabwe almost knocked them out of the tournament. The players woke up from the nightmare once South Africa lost to the Netherlands, which cleared their road to the semi-final.
They may have lost 'yet another' final, but fact is, until a few years ago, even reaching a final was a distant dream for the team.
The ICC Champions Trophy triumph at The Oval under Sarfaraz Ahmed in 2017 seemed one-off. Pakistan could not shine in the 2019 World Cup in England two years later and were inconsistent. Ahmed's loss of form led to his ouster from all three formats, but the pulse of the side changed the moment Babar Azam took over.
The five-wicket loss to England at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Sunday will hurt Babar as this was the second instance in three months that his side lost a final — the last being the Asia Cup T20 — but this is a young side that will rule the roost in the next few years.
The new Pakistan likes to create opportunities in every game, and good time to remember that they were unbeatable till the semi-finals against Australia in the 2021 T20 World Cup.
Last week, Pakistan stood up under pressure to snatch wins against South Africa, Bangladesh and New Zealand in the T20 World Cup. And even in the final, the pace-heavy bowling attack led by the lethal Haris Rauf and Shaheen Shah Afridi kept England on their toes till the latter injured his troublesome knee while completing the catch to dismiss Harry Brook off Shadab Khan's bowling. The target was only 138, and they couldn't apply the brakes after the left-arm pacer limped out of the ground.
Great Coaching Staff
After many years, Pakistan has a coaching staff with clarity of thought which translates to a healthy leadership group among the players. Cricketing greats Saqlain Mushtaq, Mohammad Yousuf, Matthew Hayden and Shaun Tait have been silently doing their job to turn the clock backwards — to design a Pakistan cricket team of all-rounders. There are players like Mohammad Nawaz and Iftikhar Ahmed who can roll their arms with spin, besides giants like Shadab Khan who can do anything inside a cricket field.
Hayden's oratory skills, as seen in the videos posted by the Pakistan Cricket Board on their social handles, lifted the spirits and pulled them out of the hole. The former Australian batter is a mentor who observed every player and appreciated the effort on the field. He devised strategies for short-term goals and created a friendly environment in the camp.
Babar and Mohammad Rizwan are a top opening pair, although they did not call the shots in all the games in this edition but clicked when their team needed it, against New Zealand in the semi-final. The duo added 105 runs for the first wicket and scored fifties to guide their side to victory.
Babar scored 53, while Rizwan was out for 57, and they entered the record books to become the only pair with three century-plus stands in the T20 World Cup. Last year, they stitched 152 against India and 113 to inflict wounds on Namibia.
The Junoon of Shadab Khan
The 24-year-old Shadab Khan, the vice-captain of the side, has been a talisman in the tournament. Depending on the game situation, he can bat up or down the order, but primarily is a leg-spinner.
Shadab raised his hand in crunch situations and claimed 11 wickets in seven outings. His knock of 52 off 22 against South Africa proved to be the game-changer, and in the semi-final, his direct hit to dismiss Devon Conway shut the critics who thought Pakistan were a poor fielding side.
Shadab scores on his confidence. He understands that the current Pakistan side is better than many teams in world cricket, including India, and this belief drives the youngsters. "We knew if we gave our 100 per cent, the result would come on our side. And that game [against India], we gave our 100 per cent. We didn’t finish it, but we knew that we were a better side than them," he told Sky Sports.
With Brook's wicket in the final, the all-rounder became Pakistan's leading wicket-taker in T20Is with 98 wickets. He surpassed Shahid Afridi's record of 97 wickets in 99 games.
The Future of Pakistan Cricket
Pakistan still relies on a good pace attack to win them games. And why not when you have express bowlers in the dugout. Rauf has been sensational in the bowling department in the World Cup with eight wickets under his belt.
The young Shaheen and Naseem Shah find a cushion in Rauf, who is like an elder brother showing them the right direction to success.
The inclusion of Haris Mohammad among the batters augurs well for the side in T20 cricket as he seems to be the only guy who can play 360-degree shots in the green jersey.
The next World Cup is in the 50-over format in India, and it remains to be seen if they can spring a surprise.