The final match of the T20 International series between Pakistan and England is being played in Lahore tonight. The series provided an opportunity to Pakistan cricket management and the captain to finalise the combination for the T20 World Cup that is starting this month in Australia.
The Pakistan team for the T20 World Cup has already been announced. It’s almost the same team that participated in the Asia Cup last month in the UAE. Good news is that ace fast bowler Shaheen Shah Afridi has started his training and will be available for the mega event with full fitness.
The T20I series against England proved once again that only openers Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan are consistent performers and bear most of the burden of run scoring.
The middle-order batting proved unreliable once again. This middle-order cannot win us the World Cup.
Skipper Babar Azam before the Asia Cup claimed that the best team had been selected after consultation with the coach. He argued that Shoaib Malik and Imad Wasim were dropped because other performers - Asif Ali, Iftikhar Ahmed and Khushdil Shah - were performing well.
On paper, Pakistan’s middle-order looks strong with Iftikhar Ahmed, Asif Ali, Khushdil Shah, Haider Ali, Mohammad Nawaz and Shadab Khan, but they failed when it mattered the most.
It was said they were hitters who could chase any target with their powerful strikes, but none of them fulfilled their responsibility in recent times. Most of the time they threw their wickets when the team expected something big from them.
In his 23 T20Is, Khushdil has managed only 282 runs with a strike rate of 111. He has played 21 innings but failed to score a single fifty so far. His highest score is 36 not out.
Iftikhar in 23 innings has scored only one fifty. He averages 27.33 and has a strike rate of 124.24.
Asif has played 46 T20Is but has scored no fifty. His strike rate of 138.52 is the only thing that goes in his favour. He averages a pathetic 16.30.
Young Haider’s performances have been affected because he has not been given chances consistently. He has scored three fifties in 21 T20I innings with a strike rate of 125.74.
These middle-order batsmen are aggressive but unreliable. If they are not performing in home conditions, how can we expect them to deliver in unfamiliar Australian conditions where green shirts’ track record is not good? How can this team compete in the World Cup against the top teams?
Pakistan need at least one dependable middle-order batsman for the World Cup who can not only accelerate the run rate but also save one end.
Pakistani batsmen have always found it difficult to tackle short balls. Their repetitive failures against short-pitched deliveries give a strong weapon to their opponents. England bowlers used the weapon quite effectively against Pakistani batsmen.
Opener Fakhar Zaman missed Pakistan’s squad for the T20 World Cup due to a knee injury. But he is in the reserve squad and is a better option than Khushdil. Fakhar’s strike rate in T20I is over 129. He has scored eight fifties. He would be useful on Australia’s hard and bouncy pitches.
The World Cup is a few days away. Shoaib Malik is a good option to bolster the middle-order. Despite his advanced age, he is still fitter than some of the youngsters and can play an important role in the World Cup with his 22 years’ experience of international cricket. Former fast bowler Aaqib Javed says Pakistan has not yet found a replacement for Malik.
Malik is not only a good finisher, but also a handy bowler and is one of the best fielders Pakistan have ever had. He is a fine batsman of spin bowling.
He last played for the national team in a T20I series against Bangladesh last year. He has played a record 124 T20 Internationals, scored 2435 runs, averaging 31.21. Overall, he has played 472 T20s, scored 11,698 runs with 71 fifties. He also has 158 wickets.
Malik, who captained the national team during the 2007 T20 World Cup, is the most experienced cricketer in the current setup and is Pakistan’s third highest run-scorer in the shortest format.
As there is no immediate option right now, the management can consider Malik at least for the T20 World Cup. Otherwise, with this batting performance it would be difficult for the Green-shirts to go far in the World Cup.
NOTE: All statistics are updated till the 4th T20I against England in Karachi.