Hyderabad: 12 /9/2022: Disappointment is understandable but trust Pakistani fans to lose the plot in a jiffy. It’s a winner-takes-all proposition, frailty be damned. Once again, it is out there in all its grand idiocy like a fetish for Stockholm Syndrome.
Yes, Pakistan flattered to deceive – and twice in a row – before Sri Lanka made short work of them for the prized trophy. But the team did make it to the final with all its inherent weaknesses and flaws, didn’t it? And it did so without spearhead Shaheen Afridi and only Rizwan making more than a hundred runs in the entire tournament with the prolific Babar Azam enduring his first real lean run – lest you forget.
Can we now get into the fault lines, which get conveniently brushed under the carpet because one fellow or the other makes a heist every now and then and we’re only too drunk on winning to insist on looking at the dark underbelly? But here’s the first paradox:
Consistently winning at cricket demands a certain ruthless streak, which unfortunately we lack primarily because a vast majority of our players are hardwired into looking for survival after making it this far on limited means. Most of the current members of the national team – including the World No 1 and 2 T20 batters – have had to endure strife that would leave most people with a lump in their throats to just hear about these (Babar was a ball boy and his cousins refused him a pair of shoes when he was to play his first big match; moneyless Rizwan used to travel long distances on buses to pursue his dream of matches outstation. Are we forgetting Babar’s mother was on a ventilator when he was guiding Pakistan to a pathbreaking victory against India last year in the World Cup or Rizwan, with a chest infection, rushing out of the ICU to not only play but top score in the semis against Australia in a canter? There are other heartrending stories but hopefully, you get the drift). So let’s not burn them at the stake just because they slipped at the last hurdle.
Every Charlie and his aunt have a favourite punching bag. The bag is named Rizwan. To be honest, the criticism about his strike rate has a fair bit of merit. If only he could further superhumanise his scoring rate whilst making a customary half century AND finishing the match as well! It doesn’t take genius to figure out that he probably would IF he could. But what about the other six or seven in the packing order? The fact is we're still rooted in old school majorly because we've always worked around a sheet anchor. Otherwise, we're unable to hold the innings together. Ask Misbah!
The problem is not necessarily with Rizwan, for, he may be doing almost as well as he can in the given circumstances; it is with the others who aren't delivering. He has been assigned a role, but if he gets into gear five like everyone is demanding from their comfy armchairs, he may perish early and that will open the floodgates.
So does that mean fear should hold us back? Of course not. It is convenient to suggest we go the ‘free-spirited’ Sri Lanka way with most batters working around staggered contributions that add up without depending on a particular batter. To get there, we need to gradually fit in the elements so that the experiment is not dropped at the first signs of failure.
Starting with Babar himself, the others need to be more flexible in their approach and take risks from the other end. Unfortunately, the orthodox Babar is not doing that and, in the bargain, using up overs you'd rather give another batter with the ability to use the long handle. But even before this happens, there’s a need to have clarity and a game plan. Right now, none of the others appear to have any sense of direction, which is compounded by their abject lack of form (hence low confidence). They are tentative, even overwhelmed by considerations of survival. Not a great recipe for success!
The worst thing Pakistan can do is to ring in wholesale changes for next month’s World Cup to cast away the blues of an unwanted final result, but hopefully, with Ramiz Raja around, this may not happen. However, Fakhar Zaman was a major disappointment and though he may not be too happy about having been dispensed as opener, he has received ample opportunities to settle in that crucial one down slot. One too many.
That said, it is now time to revisit the orthodox pairing of Babar and Rizwan at the top – already the subject of a debate – and look at other options. I suggest bringing back Shan Masood as the opener. He has scored heavily in county cricket recently and more importantly, in the last PSL edition, with a distinguished strike rate to boot. The southpaw can combine with the righthanded Rizwan to offer a different dimension, which will be a challenge to the opposition that is used to a brand of play from Babar and Rizwan that while being steady doesn’t set the stage alight, especially in that defining power play. Babar can come one down so that if Rizwan gets out, the right and left-hand combination continues, and if Shan does, after hopefully upping the ante, he can capitalise on the start.
T20 is essentially, a young man’s game and Iftikhar is already too old for it. It may have been par for the course, if he was delivering but despite repeated opportunities, he has failed to make his mark. He appears to be the most confused of the lot, unable to decide whether to attack or just offer a steady hand that merely helps him make the eleven. That simply does not fall into the culture of aggressive T20 cricket we want to play. Haider Ali must be redrafted and given a decent run at No 4. Khushdil Shah needs to show more consistency, but in order for him to succeed, his role and batting position should be clearly defined to him as well, which doesn’t appear to be the case.
The most significant change, however, needs to be wrought over the roles of Asif Ali and Mohammad Nawaz. The latter was a revelation in that charged encounter with India and gave strong indicators that he was ready to assume the role of that one X-factor player who could be traded in the order depending on the situation. If the start is steady, he could up the ante; if the team finds itself bogged down especially against spinners in the middle overs, he could unleash himself to break the shackles.
Asif Ali appears to be the most unhappy player in the team. His grouse is genuine. To be pigeon-holed into a ‘fantasy’ character who will somehow fulfil the crazy demand for a burst at the death without getting used to the pitch or quality of bowling bears no resemblance to sensibility. The current approach makes him the most obvious scapegoat for the failures of the upper and middle order. The team must work to provide him space – time in the middle – to deliver the knockout punch, if you will.