Cricket News By TODAYLIVESCORE.INFO - How Pakistan transformed its T20 approach. Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan have scored four century stands this year
Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan have scored four century stands this year
In a format like T20 where chaos is the order and consistency is the hard achieve, Pakistan, under captain Sarfraz Ahmed and coach Micky Arthur, fashioned a run of consistent series wins. Between June 2016 and 2019, Pakistan won 30 of the 37 matches and won a record 11 series in a row in the format. Unfortunately for Pakistan, this was a period devoid of a world event in the format and much of the success was downgraded or not given the due it deserved as the rest of the world was focused on the 50-over mega event in 2019.
Nothing embodies the idiom ‘the only thing constant is change' than Pakistan cricket administration. Following a middling ODI World Cup in 2019, Arthur was shown the door and Sarfraz soon followed the suit post a 0-3 drubbing at home against a second-string Sri Lanka side. The new regime disbanded the old mantra which brought them much success in the recent past and wanted to forge a new path. If it was bowlers who were at the forefront of their wins in the Sarfraz-Arthur regime, the new Misbah-Babar establishment leaned towards aggressive batting as the need of the day. The fact that the World Cup was initially supposed to be held in Australia and later in India backs the radical shift in approach to an extent. But the immediate results were damning as Pakistan won only 16 of the 29 completed T20Is under Misbah-ul-Haq's coaching tenure, and the only series wins aside from the ones against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe came against under strength South African sides earlier this year.
But with UAE finally turning out the be the venue for the World Cup, Pakistan, with their experience of playing their home internationals and multiple editions of PSL in the middle east, identified the best way to go ahead was adopting to a more nuanced strategy reverting to what worked for them during their successful reign and align those with what was kicking for them in the lead-up to the main event. By blending the old with the new, Pakistan's played a brand of cricket in the last three weeks which saw them progress to the semifinals as the only team unbeaten in the tournament, which many did not foresee coming at the start of the Super 12.
The best batsmen get to face the most balls
The 2016-18 era saw Pakistan pairing an aggressive Fakhar Zaman, who was an elite boundary hitter in the Powerplay, with an anchor batsman, mostly Ahmed Shehzad or at times Babar Azam moved up at the top of the order. Form started to desert Fakhar as times went on as Pakistan struggled for a solid pair at the top of the order. PSL, which at that point was four seasons old, also failed to deliver a reliable top order hitter from the local pool. Babar moved up the order but his injury in the entirety of the tour to New Zealand at the end of last year meant stand-in skipper Mohammad Rizwan promoted himself to open. It proved to be one of the most successful career moves in the history of the format. From having a middling T20 career for over a decade, Rizwan has scored more runs in a calendar year in T20s than anyone else managed in the history of the format.
Rizwan T20 career transformation
Once Babar returned, Pakistan decided to pair two of their most productive batsmen at the top of the order despite both being in the anchor mold. In 15 opening stands for Pakistan, Babar and Rizwan hit 861 runs at an average of 61.5 with four century opening partnerships. Opening the batting gave them the chance to face maximum number of balls in an innings and set the game up. In the ongoing T20 WC tournament, the pair has faced 374 of the 574 balls faced by Pakistan batsmen – a whopping 65%. They have done the job of seeing through the Powerplay without much damage, and against India, they chased down the entire target while they set the platform for their middle order to explode in the death overs against Namibia.
Babar- Rizwan opening record in T20Is
Middle order: solid to spectacular and back to solid
Pakistan's middle order in 2016-18 comprised of Babar at three followed by the experienced duo of Sarfaraz and Shoaib Malik, giving an impression of a solid middle order than a spectacular one. Given the strength of their bowling attack in that period, the middle order's lack of muscle did not hurt them often. Following Arthur's exit, this was where the team wanted to change its dynamic the most in an attempt to catch up with other successful T20 teams in the rapidly evolving art of boundary hitting. Pakistan moved away from solid anchors to more faster scoring hitters, and as a result, out went the likes of Sarfaraz, Malik, and Hussain Talat. PSL by then had started to produce as assembly line of boundary hitters – six hitters to be more precise. The likes of Khushdil Shah, Haider Ali and Azam Khan made their debuts in this period while Sohaib Maqsood was back in national colours after years in exile following an outstanding PSL 2021. From among the slowest scoring batting unit among major teams between June 2016 and 2019. Pakistan's scoring rates soared in the one-year period in the lead up to World Cup 2021.
The initial squad which Pakistan picked for the World Cup had the likes of Azam, Khushdil, Maqsood and Asif Ali in their middle order alongside Mohammad Hafeez, who enjoyed a late career turnaround as a middle order batter with annus mirabilis in the format in 2020. Given how the tracks played in the entirety of IPL 2020 and the second half of PSL 2021, Pakistan think tank was justified in their new adventurous batting approach. However, the pitches in the second half of IPL 2021 threw spanner in the works and made them adopt a more cautious approach and made them revert to their experienced personnel. Maqsood got injured, Khushdil was relegated to the reserves and Azman was dropped altogether. And in came Sarfaraz who was in the fringes of the team for the most part of the last 24 months with only limited on field appearances. Also, back in the 15 were Fakhar and Malik, latter with plenty of experience in UAE despite being woefully out of form in the recent CPL. Malik's experience and prowess against spin came in handy in Pakistan's clash against New Zealand where his nerveless unbeaten 20-ball 26 proved critical in a tight run chase, and in the final league game, he cashed in on the spin heavy attack of Scotland to score the fastest fifty for Pakistan in T20Is.
Asif Ali, the only premier boundary hitter retained from the provisional squad, made his presence felt, delivering two match-winning cameos in tight run chases. Across the 23 balls he has faced in this tournament so far, he has hit seven maximums.
Pacers taking the lead and spinners playing support cast
During their successful 2016-18 reign, Pakistan was the best bowling side in T20 Internationals. Barring Afghanistan who played against weaker oppositions, no other team conceded a lower average first innings total than Pakistan. Pakistan's bowling attack was led by the spin duo of Shadab Khan and Imad Wasim. Shadab was their leading wicket-taker with 44 wickets at an economy of 6.85 while Imad's 29 wickets at 5.66 was the third most. Nobody picked more wickets in the Powerplay in T20Is than Imad while Shadab was the leading wicket-taker in the middle overs in this period. The fast-bowling unit was comprised of Mohammad Amir as the top and tail lead bowler, Hasan Ali the middle overs wicket taker and Wahab Riaz as the enforcer cum death overs talisman. Usman Shinwari also pitched in at times as a new ball specialist while Faheem Ashraf was a more all-phase bowler.
In the following two years, in the lead up to the mega event, both Shadab and Imad lost their form, while Amir, Wahab and Hasan found themselves out of the reckoning. The 21-year-old Shaheen Afridi and 27-year-old Haris Rauf replaced Amir and Wahab respectively in this rebuilding phase following their rich exploits in domestic and franchise T20 tournaments. But they failed to hit the straps in Internationals as Pakistan's bowling numbers plummeted severely in this period.
Pakistan bowlers in T20 WC 2021
Things fell in place for the Lahore Qalandars pair in this tournament. Shaheen set the games up for Pakistan by cashing in with the new ball against India and Afghanistan while against New Zealand, it was Rauf who made inroads at the backend of the innings with his clever variations. which made his stock balls in the high 140s more lethal. Hasan Ali returned to the side as a much-improved version of his previous self, adding new ball skills to his repertoire. In the Super 12 phase, only Josh Hazlewood took more wickets than Hasan Ali among pacers.
The early wickets from pacers meant batting teams had to rebuild their innings in the middle overs which is where Pakistan's spinners have applied the choke, limiting the hits to the boundary. Both Shadab and Imad have gone at under a run-a-ball and have also chipped in with the odd wicket.
The bowlers set the game up for Pakistan in the first three matches and the roles were reversed in the last two matches when it was the batters who set it up in the first innings of the game. In a tournament where chasing under lights has a massive advantage, Pakistan in their last two matches have taken the difficult route to win, testifying the confidence of the unit which for the first time in their T20I history have played unchanged for five successive matches.
From rank outsiders at the start of the tournament, Pakistan made it to the semifinals much before any other team. No team has ever won this tournament remaining unbeaten throughout the competition, and Pakistan have a chance to make history. If they manage to do it, it would certainly be a win for their think tanks' hands-on approach and the ability to adapt to the changing needs, unlike some of the more fancied teams which crashed out after the Super 12s.