World T20 Previews: Pakistan

Muhammad-Amir-Bowling-against-U.A.E-in-Asia-Cup-2016-Pak-vs-UAE-Asia-Cup-2016-Highlights-696x345

With Pakistan’s opening match of the World T20 starting in a few hours, Devon and Saif look at the side’s chances.


 

I have to concede; I know virtually zero about Pakistan’s World T20 side. My wealth of knowledge when it comes to Plunket Shield stats from the 1960s is matched only by my dearth of knowledge about the current Pakistani limited overs sides.

So I enlisted the help of Saif Zuberi, someone with a fair bit more knowledge of the Pakistan team than myself.

We collaborated, with him doing the hard work – actually making the assertions, and having the ideas – while I simply typed.

Batting

With bat in hand, the man most important for Pakistan is Ahmed Shehzad – he’s copped a lot of criticism, but his abilities with the willow make him impossible to get rid of permanently. At his best, he’s easy on the eye; his timing and fluency are beautiful, and he can reach the boundary with ease. At his worst, he puts huge pressure on the team through an inability to turn the strike, and makes some quite horrific shot selections. Which one we see during this tournament could go some way to determining Pakistan’s fate.

Sharjeel Khan is a destructive left-hand batsman, fairly inexperienced at international level – he’s had one previous stint for Pakistan, through 2013-14, but failed to grasp that opportunity. His recent PSL form makes him impossible to omit, and a potentially high-value member of the side. His technique is weak, with little footwork – his job will be to smash-and-grab early on.

In the middle order, Khalid Latif is making an international comeback. His domestic form and experience, batting at three or four, has led to his return. He’s not going to go ballistic, but constant runs at a strike rate of 120-odd will be very useful for a Pakistan team used to erraticism.

Two very experienced men, Mohammad Hafeez and Umar Akmal, will both need to fire. Both are in excellent touch, but Hafeez is finding ways to get out to silly shots after making a start. Akmal, meanwhile, is Pakistan’s highest run-scorer in T20 cricket for a reason.

Shoaib Malik is also highly rated in T20 cricket, and adds value with bat and ball. His abilities against spin will be important. He’ll be joined by the highly rated Sarfraz Ahmed – probably the most complete batsman in the Pakistan team, and very competent at both turning the strike, and reaching the ropes. He can build an innings, and he can finish strong.

Down the order, the likes of Shahid Afridi, Imad Wasim and Mohammad Nawaz will contribute to the team cause – we all know how brilliant (although incredibly inconsistent) Afridi can be, while the other two are slightly unknown quantities. Afridi may yet bat up the order, which will require him to show more seniority with bat in hand than he has to date.

Bowling

This is Pakistan’s greatest strength – it could well be the strongest bowling attack in the tournament. With Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Sami and Mohammad Amir all in the same side, Pakistan boasts a quick bowling trio all capable of hitting the 150kmh mark.

Sami – good with the new ball, but possibly expensive at the death – has been in-and-out of the national side for 15 years now. His domestic form has led to his latest international appearances, despite now being 35, and his form in the Asia Cup went some way to justifying his selection.

Riaz and Amir, the two left-arm quicks, both add heat and hostility – Wahab with the bonus of experience, and Amir still with a flush of youth. These two are almost certain starters, and probably two of the first names on the team sheet.

Sami, however, has competition – in the shape of a seven-foot giant. Mohammad Irfan may be slightly less quick, but he’s just as capable. He was a constant threat during the recent Asia Cup, and while injury has hindered his career, Irfan’s bounce and awkward angle could be key during the World T20.

The weak link is Anwar Ali who adds little with the bat, and is the least of the quicks in the Pakistan squad – he’s unlikely to get game-time, but certainly isn’t the greatest exponent of bench depth.

The spin attack will be headed by Shahid Afridi, but with one of the slow left-armers Imad Wasim or Mohammad Nawaz likely to be the fourth component of the bowling attack, it’s an area where Pakistan are solid without being exceptional.

Shoaib Malik, as the only off-spinner in the side, will play a role with the odd over, but Mohammad Hafeez’s bowling ban will likely continue to hurt the balance of the side.

Overall

Pakistan’s inconsistency makes them difficult to pin down – they have excellent bowlers, but eclectic batsmen. They go from unbeatable to horror show in a heartbeat.

If the senior players with the bat – Umar Akmal, Shahid Afridi and Ahmed Shahzad – step up, then they have a batting side which shouldn’t be troubled by pace or spin. But will they step up? It’s hard to tell. Recent form suggests not; although the team has a knack of turning up at World T20 tournaments.

The side did well in 2014, but then collapsed to be 82 all-out in the winner-takes-all group match against the West Indies – it was the perfect example of the vagaries of Pakistani cricket.

India’s wickets will suit Pakistan; it will offer a chance for the team to settle down after recent failures in New Zealand and in the Asia Cup. The seniority of this side also affords a maturity that should allow them to move past these poor showings.

Unless something should happen during a match, the politicking going on won’t affect the side – it’s a team experienced enough to focus on the sport at hand.

They’re definitely not favourites, but if good Pakistan turns up, they could be serious contenders.

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