Cricket News By TODAYLIVESCORE.INFO - Buoyant Pakistan showcase title credentials. Pakistan have won both their games now in the T20 WC.
Pakistan have won both their games now in the T20 WC.
A sharp 144.6 kph bouncer was how Haris Rauf shook up Asif Ali. Back in June this year, the two were on opposite sides of a famous PSL match. Building upwards from 20 for 5, Islamabad United went on to beat Lahore Qalandars in a dramatic turn of fortune in Abu Dhabi, and perhaps it was that bouncer past Asif's face that was the tipping point. The follow-up delivery from Haris flew over extra cover for a boundary and the game wasn't the same thereafter. Asif finished with 75 off 43.
Both Haris and Asif didn't need that turf war against New Zealand. They were on the same side this time, trying to sync up their efforts in a crucial Super 12 match for Pakistan. And it more than showed up in a picture from the dressing room later, where Haris is captured handing over his Player of the Match trophy to Asif. It was only an innings of 27* off 12 this time, statistically nowhere near his PSL performance, but the runs meant that Pakistan won by five wickets in Sharjah and emerged as one of the favourites in the tournament.
That gesture from Haris, and the shared legacy of PSL between the two players, largely puts into perspective why it might be difficult to stop Pakistan at this T20 WC. Not only are they buoyed after their breakthrough win over India, not only do they seem to enjoy an enviable camaraderie among themselves, but they are also put up in the UAE — a cricketing destination several of their players know better than those back home, and not in the least because of the number of PSL games they have played over there. Because of the pandemic or otherwise.
Haris was captured handing over his Player of the Match trophy to Asif.
“Na sirf ground mei, par hotel mei bhi hamare ladke bahut pyaar-mohabbat se rehte hain,” Mohammad Rizwan had said after the India game, alluding to the chemistry and brotherhood in the side. “At one point in time during the match against India, the ball went to the midwicket area and five of our players ran in to field. That's the gel-ness, the agility, the energy that has given us the desired result.”
All of the vibe that Rizwan spoke about also travelled to Sharjah with the team. Martin Guptill felt it from close quarters when he tried to tap-and-run a single to point. It was the first over of the match and around four fielders swooped in, hurrying Guptill back to his crease and bringing about a maiden over from Shaheen Afridi. That's not the Pakistan that cricket is used to but is certainly one it can live with.
Guptill was also one of the first to experience the menace that Haris brings to the side. The good thing now is that it's no longer limited to express deliveries; two of the four wickets that Haris picked against New Zealand were off slower balls. Guptill, though, got the pointier end of the needle. The first ball he faced from Haris was a searing 149 kph yorker through his legs. The next ball bowled him.
Haris's strike gave Pakistan the powerplay breakthrough they are so used to seeing from Afridi. The left-armer didn't quite find the same swing and zip as he did against India but it didn't mean that he was easy to put away.
Afridi, with his fast swing and fuller lengths, and Rauf, with his pace and ever-improving economy-rate, are all but cogs in a sensational bowling line-up that Pakistan have put together for these conditions. Complementing the pace in the powerplay are Imad Wasim's quiet overs of left-arm spin, the ball skidding into the right-hander and cutting off the angles for him. Imad doesn't even mind bowling with the wet ball. “I actually like when there's dew. My deliveries go quicker and lower, they skid much more making it difficult for the batsmen,” he said in a sideline interview. There wouldn't be many other spinners around the world who would concur but that's what Pakistan have at their disposal — a bowling attack so attuned to the local conditions in the UAE that any other skill from anywhere else in the world struggles for relevance.
Shadab Khan's legspin is part of an effective spin triumvirate for Pakistan, which also features offspin and left-arm orthodox.
Then there's Shadab Khan who comes on in the middle overs, bowling fast leg breaks to right-handers and faster googlies otherwise. But he mostly has a crack at the left-handers only after Pakistan's evergreen arsenal against the lot, Mohammad Hafeez, has done his thing: slinging it from round the wicket, pitching it in line with the stumps and letting it do whatever it likes to do when coming out of his hand.
Similar to how he was brought on to bowl against Rishabh Pant in Dubai, Hafeez was introduced in Sharjah as soon as left-handed James Neesham was sent in at No.4. That contest lasted one ball.
And last but not the least, there's Hasan Ali. The bowler who's the least in his elements for Pakistan right now but who can surprise with a good ball on the worst of days. He also forms a major part of the team's vibe that Rizwan spoke about. In Hasan's own words, his wicket celebration is like a “bomb that goes to the batsman and he's gone….” He didn't quite get to pull that off as a bowler against New Zealand but as a fielder, his run out of Kane Williamson was probably what kept the opposition to around a par score on a low, slow surface. As Pakistan's run-chase showed later, it wasn't very easy to score out there.
The batting remains Pakistan's most vulnerable of the three suits but it's been coming together well so far. They have twice chased successfully in the tournament and while the conditions might point to that being the easier thing to do while batting in Asia, it's not always been the case with Pakistan.
With the openers misfiring this time, it was Shoaib Malik rising to the occasion against New Zealand, flaunting his black bandana, his slim frame and hardly looking like the last-minute injury replacement that he was. While he nudged the ball around at a strike-rate of 130, Asif carted it around at 225, hitting two sixes off Tim Southee in the 17th over when it looked like Pakistan could falter yet another chase. They didn't, and with two wins in two games now, they are primed to reach the semi-final.
It's probably unfair that New Zealand have gotten the draw that they have. Their tournament opener was against a rejuvenated team that hasn't lost a T20 game in the UAE since 2016 and that was playing them at the slowest and lowest venue of them all. That Lockie Ferguson was ruled out of the tournament minutes before the game only made it worse but you play the hand you're dealt. Nobody knows it better than the current generation of Pakistan players, and aren't they shining through now.