Pakistan’s failure to beat Sri Lanka in Asia Cup final left their fans utterly disappointed
Pakistan cricket team has been announced for the T20 World Cup to be played in Australia in October and November. It's almost the same team that participated in the recently concluded Asia Cup in the UAE. Good news is the ace fast bowler Shaheen Shah Afridi will be there in Australia with full fitness.
Uncapped all-rounder Aamer Jamal, 26, has been selected for the T20 series against England. His performance in the ongoing National T20 Cup forced selectors to give him a chance. He could replace Shadab Khan when he might need rest.
Playing for Northern, Aamer scored 221 runs, averaging 36.83 in 11 T20 matches. But the important thing is that his strike rate is over 178. He has also taken 13 wickets at an average of 27.76.
Last week, favourite Pakistan lost the Asia Cup final against Sri Lanka by 23 runs in Dubai. A team that failed to directly qualify for the T20 World Cup lifted the Asia Cup.
A young Sri Lankan side with a huge fighting spirit deserved to win the Asia Cup as they made a strong comeback in the tournament after losing the first game against Afghanistan. Their players performed as a team rather than individuals.
Sri Lanka won despite slipping to 58 for 5. It was their only win batting first in the competition after four consecutive chases.
Before the final, in the rehearsal match against Sri Lanka, Pakistan were bowled out for just 121 runs. People and the team management were confident that the Greenshirts would bounce back and win the title quite convincingly. But Pakistan were outclassed by the young Sri Lankans in all departments of the game.
When Sri Lanka were 58-5 in the ninth over, it looked like a one-sided final and it ended like that but in the favour of Sri Lanka.
With Dasun Shanaka as the captain, Sri Lanka have been beating Pakistan consistently. Shanaka also led them to a 3-0 series win in 2019. Before this winning run, Sri Lanka had only five T20I wins against Pakistan in 18 meetings.
There are lots of flaws in the Pakistan team that need to be fixed before the upcoming T20 world cup.
First of all, Pakistan need aggressive openers who can score at a strike rate of over 130, make use of the power play restrictions with their power hitting and score over 50 runs in the first six overs.
No doubt, Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan are one of the best opening pairs in the T20 format. Both have scored over 60 percent of Pakistan's runs in T20Is since the start of last year's T20 World Cup. But the Asia Cup made it clear that they lack the ability to hit over the head in the power play.
In the Asia Cup, Babar's strike rate was 107.93 while Rizwan scored at 117.57 - not enough when you are chasing 170 plus runs.
As an opening pair, their run rate is the second-lowest among all full members in the power play. In the last 13 matches, they have scored 401 runs at a strike rate of 122.27.
In seven T20I matches this year, Babar has scored just one fifty - against Australia.
Shan Masood could be another option for the opener. In 2022, the left-hander has been in great form. He scored 1257 in T20s with a striking rate of 136.68. Playing for Derbyshire he remained the fifth-highest run-getter with 547 runs in 14 innings at a strike rate of 139.89.
Sharjeel Khan is another option to open the inning. His aggressive batting style in the Pakistan Super League (PSL) earned him a place in Pakistan's squad for the 2016 Asia Cup and the World T20 2016, where he replaced the injured Babar.
Sharjeel scored his first T20I fifty off just 25 balls in his third match, and also scored 61 in his first One-day International. He has played 21 T20Is for Pakistan, scoring 406 runs at a strike rate of over 133.
With Iftikhar Ahmed, Asif Ali, Khushdil Shah, Mohammad Nawaz and Shadab Khan in the middle and lower middle order, it looked like a very strong batting line up, but all of them failed when it mattered the most. They are rated as hitters who can chase any target with their long hitting, but none of them fulfilled their responsibility. Iftikhar, Khushdil and Asif scored 105, 58 and 41 runs, respectively, averaging 26.25, 14.50 and 8.20.
Iftikhar in his 24-T20I career has scored only one fifty - against Australia in 2019.
Asif is highly rated but in his 45 T20Is, he has never made a fifty. His strike rate of 136 is good, but his average of 15.86 shows his inconsistency. Most of the time he throws his wicket away when the team expects something big from him.
Left hand hard hitting batsman Khushdil Shah's record at No. 4 across T20s is impressive. He scores at a strike rate of 146 and average 27 in domestic circuit. But in international matches his highest score has been 36 not out - in 2020. During the last two years, he played 15 matches and his highest score of 35 came against Hong Kong.
With such performances from the middle order, how can a team compete in the World Cup against the top teams?
The Green-shirts need all-rounders like Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez in the middle, who are not only good finishers, but also handy bowlers and have safe pairs of hands in the deep.
Head coach Saqlain Mushtaq defended Pakistan opening combination of Babar and Rizwan, especially Rizwan's defensive start, "Every team and player has their own style and methods, the way we played, we reached semi-finals of the T20 World Cup last year, we got to the final of an Asia Cup here. Evidence suggests you're doing something right to get here."
Statistically Saqlain is right. Pakistan qualified for the final while India didn't. But Pakistan did not qualify for the final convincingly. The Green-shirts won the matches against India and Afghanistan only in the last overs.
There were no significant contributions from the top and middle order in both victories. Against India, all-rounder Mohammad Nawaz, promoted to number 4, gave an unexpected performance. Fast bowler Naseem Shah's surprising sixes in the last over against Afghanistan pushed Pakistan into the final.
Pakistan's strength was their bowling led by Naseem and including Harris Rauf and Mohammed Hasnain.
Pakistan wicket-keeper batsman Mohammad Rizwan was the highest run-getter of the Asia Cup with 281 runs, including three fifties, averaging 56.20, but his strike rate was not as high as it should be as an opener.
On the other hand, former Indian skipper Virat Kohli was behind him with 276 runs scored at a strike rate of 147.59. He hit one hundred and two half-centuries.