T20 WC: Despite All the Volatility, Semi-Final Chances Look Bright for Pakistan
ICC T20 World Cup: Pakistan are in the same group as India, New Zealand, Afghanistan, and a qualifier team.
Talk about the favourites of the upcoming T20 World Cup and Pakistan hardly find a mention. Still, it was only in May last year that Pakistan were dethroned from the top of the ICC T20I team rankings after having dwelled at the pinnacle for 27 months.
Pakistan had a disappointing 2016 T20 World Cup and managed to win just one of their four Super 10 matches, eventually failing to make it to the semis.
Notwithstanding a few hiccups that the Babar Azam-led side has had in the recent past, the team by and large has had a golden run in T20 Internationals since the last showpiece event. They have won 46 of their 71 T20Is in this period while losing just 20 with an excellent win/loss ratio of 2.30.
A lion's share of these victories came under Sarfaraz Ahmed, who is the country's most successful T20I skipper with a win percentage of 78.37. His successor Babar Azam's (win percentage of 65.21) record as captain is good, but nothing extraordinary.
Pakistan's recent form in the format has been decent. They first beat South Africa by 2-1 at home and then registered an impressive 3-1 victory on South African soil. Following a 2-1 series victory against Zimbabwe, the team lost their T20I fixture against England by 2-1.
Marred Build-up to T20 WC
It has been tough going for the Men in Green in the lead up to the T20 World Cup. The team was set to play 12 T20 Internationals between 28 July and the beginning of the World Cup, but it ultimately that was not to be.
First, their five-match T20 series against West Indies was curtailed to four matches due to a mild COVID-19 outbreak. A result was possible in only one of the four matches, which Pakistan won by 7 runs, with the remaining matches being washed out.
Just minutes before the beginning of their five-match T20 series against New Zealand, the Kiwis pulled out, citing a security threat. England followed suit, cancelling their two T20Is right before the World Cup.
Although there has been some stiff competition in the country's domestic T20 tournament, the National T20 Cup, there is nothing like international cricket and Pakistan will go into the World Cup slightly underprepared.
Despite Controversies, Pakistan Squad Looks Dynamic
The excessive discussions around the Pakistan squad must have been quite unsettling for the players. Just days before Pakistan leave for the UAE, as many as four changes were made with Haider Ali, Fakhar Zaman and Sarfaraz Ahmed replacing Azam Khan, Mohammed Hasnain and Khushdil Shah. An injured Sohaib Maqsood had to make way for veteran Shoaib Malik.
All the incoming players have been in a rich vein of form in the National T20 Cup and certainly increase Pakistan's chances of advancing in the showpiece event.
The Pakistan batsmen to watch out for are captain Babar Azam, top order batsman Fakhar Zaman and wicket-keeper Mohammed Rizwan. Azam and Rizwan open the batting for Pakistan in T20Is and though they can be a touch defensive at times, their consistency is unquestioned. In fact, they were the only two players to touch 500 runs in the last edition of the Pakistan Super League.
Shoaib Malik made 354 runs in the competition at a strike rate of 150 and though he might not feature in the starting XI, the wealth of experience that Malik possesses, he is a handy backup to have.
The team has several quality all-rounders with Mohammad Hafeez, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Nawaz, Shoaib Malik, Imad Wasim and Mohammad Wasim Jr capable of delivering with both bat and ball. Spin bowling all-rounders Shadab Khan, Imad Wasim and Mohammad Nawaz can all use the long handle well and their lower order contributions will be goldust for Pakistan.
Haris Rauf, Shaheen Shah Afridi and Hasan Ali are their leading pace bowlers. Afridi is a master at swinging the ball first up and can bowl accurate yorkers as well. He picked up 16 wickets from 10 PSL 2020/21 matches.
The Indian fans would remember the impact that Hasan Ali made in the 2017 Champions Trophy and his variations and death bowling set him apart. Haris Rauf, who has starred in the Big Bash League over the last couple of years, can clock 150 kph and will be a handful in conducive conditions.
The India-Pakistan Blockbuster
Pakistan start their T20 World Cup campaign with the mother of all blockbusters (or so it once was) – an encounter against India. A look at the team's record against arch-rivals in ICC events and the World Cup and there are enough reasons for Pakistan to get the yips.
The team has faced off against India 17 times in ICC events, with India winning on 14 occasions.
When it comes to the World Cup, India have an impressive 12-0 record. Pakistan have lost all their seven matches against India in the 50-over World Cup while losing all their five games in T20 World Cups.
There is almost unanimous agreement in the cricketing fraternity that India have been more professional and have dealt with pressure well in the Indo-Pak encounters in the recent years, which, apart from superior skill, is one of the main reasons for them emerging victorious consistently.
With chatter having already started over the show-stopper clash, the former Pakistan cricketers are not helping their players by making outrageous predictions.
The 2009 T20 World Cup winners will face New Zealand in their next match and there is plenty of passion within the team and among the Pakistan public to exact revenge from New Zealand after they made a unilateral decision to pull out of the Pakistan white-ball series.
Semi-Final Chances Look Bright
Housed in Super 12 Group 2, Pakistan have to compete against New Zealand, Afghanistan, India and two other qualifiers to book a spot in the semis. With India being favourites, Pakistan have a good chance of trumping New Zealand and Afghanistan for the second spot, particularly in this format and in the well-known and well-suited conditions of the UAE.
There was a clear gulf in the T20 abilities when Pakistan squared off against England recently. Despite a handful of their matches getting cancelled and a lot of last-minute changes, no one who has watched enough cricket can write off Pakistan. May the unpredictability begin.
Pakistan squad: Babar Azam (captain), Shadab Khan (vice-captain), Asif Ali, Fakhar Zaman, Haider Ali, Haris Rauf, Hasan Ali, Imad Wasim, Mohammad Hafeez, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohammad Wasim Jnr, Sarfaraz Ahmed, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Shoaib Malik.
Travelling Reserves: Khushdil Shah, Shahnawaz Dahani, Usman Qadir.
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