Pakistan, as always, are carrying a wave of unpredictability into the forthcoming T20 World Cup. The mercurial Asian giants are being touted as favourites by some for conditions in UAE, while others are hesitant to make any predictions, realising nobody knows which Pakistan may turn out.
Pakistan are part of Group 2 of the Super 12 stage alongside India, New Zealand and Afghanistan and will also be locking horns with two preliminary round qualifiers, at least one of which is expected to be a fellow Asian country as well.
They’ll start off their campaign against arch-rivals India in Dubai on October 24, followed by matches with New Zealand (Oct 26, Sharjah) and Afghanistan (Oct 29, Dubai). They’ll round off their Super 12 run with games against preliminary round qualifier A2 on November 2 and B1 on November 7 in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, respectively.
Captain: Babar Azam
Head coach: Saqlain Mushtaq
Claim to Fame: Champions (2009), Runners-up (2007), semi-finalists (2010, 2012)
Babar Azam (c), Shadab Khan (vc), Asif Ali, Fakhar Zaman, Haider Ali, Haris Rauf, Hasan Ali, Imad Wasim, Mohammad Hafeez, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Mohammad Wasim Jnr, Sarfaraz Ahmed, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Shoaib Malik
Reserves: Khushdil Shah, Shahnawaz Dahani and Usman Qadir
Strengths: If the ball grips and turns, Pakistan will be a difficult team to beat, considering they have a batting line-up that would propel them to scores of 150-160 quite regularly and then variety of bowling options to put the breaks on the opposition. Babar and Rizwan are fine anchors to have in the middle-order in that regard. Pakistan have also sensibly reincluded aggressive left-hander Fakhar to their squad after initially naming him only as a reserve. With batting in mind, Maqsood’s back injury and his forced absence is a blow.
On the spin-bowling front, while vice-captain Shadab has been inconsistent at the international stage for a while, Pakistan importantly have alternate options in the likes of Imad, Hafeez and Wasim, if required, to still retain control. Spin will have to be at its best for Pakistan considering they’ll be playing most of their Super 12 games against Asian opponents.
Area of Concern: Again, it is conditions dependent. If the ball regularly goes to the boundary ropes and 170 is a par score, Pakistan’s depth as a batting unit will stand exposed. Apart from Fakhar at the top, they don’t have many in-form powerhitters in a batting line-up where all-rounder Imad is expected to bat No.7. In such a scenario, anchors who like to bat deep such as Babar and Rizwan will have to take risks earlier in their innings and that may come at the cost of their important wickets.
Pakistan also has an inexperienced fast-bowling attack up their sleeves. While Hasan Ali and Shaheen Afridi are undoubtedly talented, they haven’t always been the four-over banks for their side. Hassan has a T20I career economy rate of 8.29. The corresponding number for Shaheen is 8.17.
1. Babar Azam
This goes without saying but if Babar is to have a poor tournament, Pakistan are highly unlikely to make the semis. The skipper has been his team’s dependable anchor against all oppositions and in various conditions. Since the start of 2018, Babar has made 1,736 runs from his 42 innings in T20Is at an average of 46.91 and strike-rate of 133.23.
2. Mohammad Rizwan
Even since becoming Pakistan’s first-choice all-format wicketkeeper in 2019-20, Rizwan’s returns with the bat have been on the up. He is a busy player with a good range, whom Pakistan can slot in as an anchor at the top and also use as an aggressor in the middle-order. Rizwan is heading into the T20 World Cup with a great year behind him. In T20Is this year, he is averaging 94.00 with a strike-rate of 140.03.
3. Shaheen Afridi
We spoke of the inexperience but if left-arm quick Shaheen finds his form and rhythm, he can be pivotal to Pakistan’s cause in the powerplay and at the death. Shaheen maybe too young to be leading a pace attack for a T20 World Cup but there is no doubting his talent. The pacer has been crucial to Pakistan’s T20I wins during his career. He has taken 25 wickets in 19 T20I wins for Pakistan with an economy rate of 7.96.
Probable Pakistan Playing XI: Babar Azam (c), Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Fakhar Zaman, Shoaib Malik, Mohammed Hafeez, Haider Ali, Imad Wasim, Shadab Khan (vc), Shaheen Afridi, Hasan Ali, Haris Rauf
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