Chaos in the board - Check
Change in coaching personnel - Check
Off-field shenanigans pissing off the fans - Check
Any other team would have crumbled in such a situation just ahead of a mega event, but going by history, it was the perfect recipe that Pakistan fans would’ve liked to have. Logic dictates cricket doesn’t operate like that but logic hardly applies to Pakistan - a proud cricketing nation with its own histrionics. As the 2021 ICC T20 World Cup’s Super 12 round set to get underway, the blockbuster rivalry between India and Pakistan would roll things off in Dubai and Pakistan, as usual, wouldn’t leave anything in the tank.
When New Zealand and England pulled out of their tour of Pakistan last month, Pakistan Cricket Board’s newly-elected chairman Ramiz Raja was scathing in his own way and led a war cry for the Pakistan cricket team to show the world their competence. “Disappointed with England, pulling out of their commitment & failing a member of their Cricket fraternity when it needed it most. Survive we will inshallah. A wake-up call for Pak team to become the best team in the world for teams to line up to play them without making excuses,” Raja wrote on Twitter.
Even if the cricketing world might want to surge it off, but there is something more intrinsic about the Pakistan cricketers who revel in chaos and rise on such occasions. Thus as they set to roll the dice, they would know the other teams can only count them off in their own peril.
Despite their apparent weakness in the middle-order, Pakistan can breathe easy knowing that Babar Azam and Mohammed Rizwan is guarding the top order. The Pakistan skipper scores at a strike rate of 130.64 in T20Is but his lowest average in a year since his debut is 37.35. That is an exceptional record. On the other hand, Rizwan has scored 959 runs at an average of 59.94 and an SR of 133.9 since January 2019. The duo’s incredible consistency and the ability to keep the innings together hold the key for Pakistan to up the ante in the World Cup with the wickets set to be on the slower side.
The bowling department is to be led by Shaheen Shah Afridi who is a superstar in the Pakistan bowling attack, pretty much like Jasprit Bumrah for India. He holds an uncanny ability to run through the batting order with his high-pace bowling. While it is understandable that Imad Wasim and Mohammad Nawaz would be vital for Pakistan on these sluggish grounds of the Emirates, the troika of Afridi, Haris Rauf and Hasan Ali will take inspiration from Anrich Nortje, who in the last two seasons of IPL, has carved a niche for himself with his raw pace.
While in the form of Azam and Rizwan, Pakistan have one of the most lethal top-orders, the same can’t be said about their middle-order, which is in a complete mess at the moment. In 22 matches since January 2020, they have struck at 124.9 and have an average of 16.8 - in both counts, they are the second-worst sides among all directly-qualified Super 12 teams.
The selectors have replaced Mohammad Hasnain and Khushdil Shah for Sarfraz Ahmed and Haider Ali after excluding them from the 15 in the first place, but they don’t inspire a lot of confidence either, having endured a tough PSL last time around. Asif Ali, for all his promise as a power-hitter in the National T20 League and Pakistan Super League, averaged just 16.38 with a strike rate of 123.74 that belies his SR of 147.02 domestically. Overall, Pakistan have a shortage of power-hitters who could actually be impactful like a Hardik Pandya or Glenn Maxwell or Rishabh Pant.
As we have discussed earlier, Pakistan have always embraced chaos and it’s never been a better time than this to sneak through the backdoor and make their presence felt in the ICC T20 World Cup 2021. With Scotland and Ireland being in the pole position to enter the group, already populated by India, New Zealand, and Afghanistan, they can genuinely back themselves to enter the semi-finals. And from there on, you never know the magic they can unleash.
Sohaib Maqsood, after being named in the original squad, was ruled out of the World Cup due to a lower back injury. Even though the batter was undergoing a recovery process, the board announced veteran Shoaib Malik as his replacement.
Best Possible XI
Fakhar Zaman, Mohammad Rizwan, Babar Azam, Mohammad Hafeez, Haider Ali, Asif Ali, Shadab Khan, Imad Wasim, Hasan Ali, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Haris Rauf.