ICC World T20 2022: Shaheen’s return boosts Pakistan’s attack; top order’s strike rate still a worry
ICC Men's T20 World Cup 2022: Shaheen Shah Afridi back in Pakistan's T20 World Cup squad; Fakhar Zaman in reserves due to knee injury.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) deadline for all national teams to announce their squads for ICC Men's T20 World Cup 2022 in Australia was September 15. Pakistan hurried on the bus by releasing their squad on the deadline day. Apart from New Zealand and Sri Lanka, all the other Test playing nations have already announced their squads.
For Pakistan, the squad remains more or less the same that featured in Asia Cup 2022, with star speedster Shaheen Shah Afridi making his comeback after an injury as he was declared fit for the World T20. The World Cup also sees the comeback of Haider Ali, who last played an international T20I in December 2021. Shan Masood, who was the fifth highest run-scorer in T20 Blast of 2022, has received his maiden T20I call up for Pakistan. Masood, though, has featured in Tests and ODI formats for Pakistan earlier.
Chants of bringing veteran Shoaib Malik were laid to rest as the former captain didn’t receive a call up to the squad. Fakhar Zaman, who had an absolute nightmare of an Asia Cup, found himself lucky to be named in the reserves even with a knee injury. India’s physios should definitely take a leaf from Pakistan’s physio in order to recover the injured Ravindra Jadeja, who will be out of action for about 40 days with a knee injury.
Pakistan’s ICC Men's T20 World Cup 2022 Squad
Babar Azam (c), Shadab Khan (vc), Asif Ali, Haider Ali, Haris Rauf, Iftikhar Ahmed, Khushdil Shah, Mohammad Hasnain, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohammad Wasim, Naseem Shah, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Shan Masood, Usman Qadir
Reserves: Fakhar Zaman, Mohammad Haris, Shahnawaz Dahani
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Stable yet slow-moving top order?
What everyone around the globe has observed in Asia Cup 2022 and Pakistan’s previous 12 months in T20Is is that they have a classy opening combination of world number 1 and world number 3 ranked T20I players, Mohammad Rizwan and Babar Azam, respectively. However, not everything seems to be working in their favour, as they are both known for their slow starts, which can end up pressurising batters at the other end at the fall of a wicket. Since 2021 Babar has an average strike rate of 125.26, while his partner in crime, Rizwan has had an average strike rate of 126.32 in the same period. While they both have scored 44.78 per cent of the team's total runs in an innings, they have gobbled up games for Pakistan.
The classic example can be taken from the recently concluded Asia Cup 2022 final against Sri Lanka, where they were chasing 171 and Rizwan batted with a strike rate of just 112.24. Rizwan’s slow innings put pressure on the rest of the batters, and as soon as Rizwan was out, the game was almost done and dusted for Pakistan with a required run rate of over 14. To cover for their slow openers, Pakistan called up Shan Masood, who scored 547 runs in 14 innings in T20 Blast 2022 at a strike rate of 139.90. At the top, Masood might just be the ideal replacement for Fakhar Zaman for Pakistan at the top.
Iftikhar Ahmed, the probable number four for Pakistan, has a strike rate worse than their opening partners. With a career T20I strike rate of 122.88 and an even lower strike rate of 100.85 in 2022, Iftikhar further slows down Pakistan’s batting engine. There might be a toss up between Haider Ali and Khushdil Shah for the number five spot, where Haider Ali is a clear winner in terms of strike rate - 128.48 over Khushdil’s 110.31. It will be interesting to see what Pakistan prefer in the World Cup, Haider Ali’s youth and striking ability or Khushdil Shah’s left-handedness along with bowling abilities.
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The middle order has firepower, but will it make up for their top order?
Pakistan’s middle order is filled with big-hitters and fresh legs with the likes of Mohammad Nawaz, Asif Ali and Shadab Khan at numbers 6, 7 and 8, respectively. Nawaz showed his batting prowess against India in the Asia Cup, scoring a quickfire 20-ball 42 at a strike rate of 210, which turned the match in favour of Pakistan.
Asif Ali, who has made his name in international circuit as "the six hitter", has a career strike rate of 136. We have witnessed Asif's power-hitting in World T20 2021, where he won the match for Pakistan against New Zealand with his clean striking abilities. Asif said in a recent interview that he practises hitting 100-150 sixes in training to be prepared for game situations.
If Nawaz and Asif both fail, Pakistan have a world-class spin bowling all-rounder in the form of Shadab Khan, who is no stranger to Australian pitches courtesy of his stint in the Big Bash league (BBL). Shadab has a strike rate of 135.95 with the bat and can often surprise the opposition with his 360-degree hitting ability. To strengthen their middle order and all-round department even more, Pakistan have stuck with Usman Qadir, who can bat at a decent pace and bowl three odd overs if needed.
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Pakistan’s pace battery – Too fast, too furious?
With the comeback of their ace pacer, Shaheen Afridi, Pakistan’s bowling unit looks the most suited to Australia’s pacy and bouncy wickets as compared to the rest of the teams. Shaheen can swing the ball at upwards of 145 kmph and the left-arm angle has been known as a deadly threat in world cricket in recent times. With a strike rate of 18.81, Shaheen almost guarantees a wicket in this format every 18 deliveries.
To accompany Shaheen with the new ball, Pakistan also have another emerging speedster in the form of Naseem Shah. Naseem, who is quite new to international settings, has already taken the world by fire with seven wickets at an economy of 7.67 in the three innings he has bowled so far. Kusal Mendis got a deadly in-swinger from Naseem that sent the stumps cartwheeling in the Asia Cup final. Naseem's ability to swing the ball both ways and his six-hitting ability that we witnessed against Afghanistan might just help him secure a place as Shaheen’s new ball partner.
If that is not too much pace to handle already, Pakistan have Haris Rauf, who made his mark in the cricketing world by featuring for Melbourne Stars in the Big Bash League. Rauf is the fastest amongst Pakistan’s pace battery and can be accurate with his yorkers; he has a beautifully disguised slower ball too in his armoury. With years of experience bowling on Australian pitches, this makes Rauf the complete package and the bowler to watch out for in World T20 down under.
That’s not all! Pakistan have shown their faith in 22-year-old Mohammad Hasnain, who also has decent experience of bowling in Australian conditions thanks to his stint with the Sydney Thunders, where he impressed one and all with his 150 kmph thunderbolts. However, he was sidelined soon after with a suspected bowling action. Nevertheless, Pakistan's bowlers and suspected bowling action is still a better love story than South Africa and choking in the World Cup, as that has always been the history with Pakistan’s pace bowlers.
Pakistan have kept Shahnawaz Dahani in the reserves, in case any of their fast and furious bowling unit gets injured.
While three seamers - Shaheen, Naseem and Rauf - fill in the 9, 10 and 11 positions for Pakistan, it would be interesting to see whether they will be tempted to play another pacer in the squad or continue with five proper bowlers along with some part-time spinners. If they go with another pacer, their tail gets bigger.
One thing that would favour Pakistan would be the experience of their players on Australian wickets, in spite of fewer or zero international games down under, with the likes of Shadab, Haris and Hasnain having plenty of experience bowling in the Big Bash League. Pakistan's main concern has remained consistent over the years: their brittle batting. Pakistan’s average score batting first in Australia might just be around 140-150, with a heavy dependence on their bowlers to win games more often than not. If they chase anything above 190, Pakistan might just bow down to the opposition if their openers are dismissed early.
Without a shadow of a doubt, Pakistan have the best fast bowling attack amongst all the teams, which might just give them an edge. To ensure a chance of clinching the T20 title, Pakistan have also roped in Australian legend Matthew Hayden as their mentor for the tournament. Will they be able to get their hands on the silverware for the second time? Well, only time will tell.