From September 2016 to 2019, Pakistan dominated the shortest format of the game under Sarfaraz Ahmed’s leadership and won 29 out of 37 games played during this time. They won eleven consecutive series which saw them topped the ICC T20 rankings. Fast forward to today, they seem a shadow of their former selves, and with the World Cup just five months away the team management needs to do a lot of working to come up with the winning formula and combinations.
The recently concluded T20 series against South Africa and Zimbabwe have raised serious question marks on Pakistan’s middle order. The scoreline suggests Pakistan won the series comfortably by margins of 3-1 and 2-1 but in reality, it was a drag on most occasions as weaker bowling attacks pushed Pakistan’s full-strength team to the wire. It was mainly due to the individual brilliance of Muhammad Rizwan and captain Babar Azam with the bat that helped the team overcome the challenge with almost zero support from the remaining batsmen.
In the second game against Proteas, Pakistan were bundled out for just 140 against South Africa’s second-string side while in the fourth and final T20 game the green shirts saw a collapse which saw them fall from 92 for 2 to 115-6 in four overs. Pakistan eventually won the match by three wickets largely thanks to an inexperienced bowling attack.
Against Zimbabwe in the first T20I, Pakistan posted a respectable total of 149 largely due to Muhammad Rizwan’s 82. Danish Aziz and Fakhar Zaman were the highest run scorer after him with 15 and 13 while no other batsmen could make it to double figures. If t wasn’t for some sloppy fielding from the Zimbabweans, the visitors could have lost this game.
In the next game, Pakistan were shocked as they failed to chase down a target of 119 and were bundled out for just 99 after being 78-4.
T20 is a kind of format where consistency is hard to find. Things are happening at such a rapid pace that you need to be at the top of the game to overcome what is being thrown at you. Players need consistent chances and clarity of role so they can deliver. Unfortunately, this has been missing from the Pakistan side. Due to a lot of personnel changes neither they are assured of their place in the team nor they have clarity due to which they are looking clueless and rather are playing for themselves rather than for the team.
Pakistan have themselves to blame for their downfall. Since Misbah took over in 2019, there have been too many unnecessary changes that have disrupted the team combination and flow. Just in 2021, Pakistan has tried six different players from number 4 to 6 in three series. Hussain Talat, Iftikhar Ahmed and Khushdil Shah constituted the middle order when South Africa visited Pakistan in January.
After failing to register considerable performances all three of them were dropped and replaced by Asif Ali and Danish Aziz for the tours of South Africa and Zimbabwe. Young Haider Ali who batted at number three before this tour played at 5.
Muhammad Hafeez had a horrendous trip as he scored only 65 runs in the 7 games he played. Pakistan’s highest run-scorer in the format had an incredible run in the T20s last year hasn’t been able to deliver at all.
One of the biggest failures of the tour has been Asif Ali. The right-hander known because of his hitting prowess has not been able to deliver anything. Since making 38 against New Zealand in November 2018, Asif’s T20 scoreline reads: 2*, 13, 2, 25, 3, 6, 29, 1, 11, 4, 7, 5 and 1.
Pakistan’s batting coach Younis Khan has admitted that the middle order has been underperforming, “Our problem has been the lack of runs from the middle order, which is indeed a worrying sign considering the amount of cricket Pakistan will play in the lead-up to Twenty20 World Cup in what is a challenging year with several tough series to come.”
But it’s essential to acknowledge the vast amount of unfair pressure on Muhammad Rizwan and Babar Azam, given their fallible middle order. One of them or both must go hard at the top and bat through the innings to give their side the best chance of finishing strongly. Also, both are not experienced enough yet to thrive under the pressure of knockout games and the best teams would steamroll Pakistan should they fail. Hence, the middle order has to step up and deliver.
One of the biggest failures of the tour has been Asif Ali. The right-hander known because of his hitting prowess has been absolute lack luster in national team. Since making 38 against New Zealand in November 2018, Asif’s T20 scoreline reads: 2*, 13, 2, 25, 3, 6, 29, 1, 11, 4, 7, 5 and 1.
Commenting on faltering Asif who has failed with the bat on many occasions, Younis clearly pointed out the onus is on the selectors, head coach and captain to decide which route to take after Asif’s latest comeback proved a major flop.
Lets take a look at the options available to fill in the slots.
There have been a lot of voices to bring Shoaib Malik back in the squad. A veteran of 116 T20I matches, most by any player from Pakistan. T20 World Cup winner in 2009 and has represented Pakistan in all editions of the tournament except in 2010. But can he really make a difference?
Malik last played a T20 for Pakistan in September 2020 against England and was dropped for the tour of New Zealand. His exclusion did surprise a lot of people at the time. Shoaib’s career T20 strike rate is 124.20 which is almost similar to Hafeez’s 124.20 so can’t afford him to be playing at number 5 or 6. You need more dynamic players at this position to dismantle the opposition in the death overs.
The left hander was a vital cog in Pakistan’s T20 supremacy from 2016-2019 where they won 29 off the 37 matches played. His ability to take wickets with the new ball and disciplined line and lengths were pivotal in keeping the opposition in check. In terms of his batting he has a career strike rate of 145.89. Yes, his bowling has lost much of its potency in the recent times but he can still walk in this batting line up.
The 23 year old has raised his stocks big time in the last year or so with his dynamic performances in 2020 in the domestic circuit as well as in the Pakistan Super League. Fitness has been his main issue but he has been working hard in the National Cricket Academy (NCA) to lose weight. With a career strike rate of 157.41, he can certainly clear the boundaries with ease and can be an answer to Pakistan’s middle order woes.
With so many slots open in the national team, the remaining games of the PSL to be played from next month have gained more importance. Many players will be looking to catch the eye of the selectors and make it in the squad for the World Cup.
With the 10 T20s that Pakistan has in their hands, they should look to settle down as quickly as possible to provide stability in their middle order or we’re looking at an embarrassing show in the global tournament.