Haider Ali has not played a T20I since December last question marks over his consistency still remain. In the current circumstances, though, he could be just what Pakistan’s T20I side needs, writes Shashwat Kumar.
Those attuned to Pakistan cricket will know what Haider Ali is all about. A gifted stroke-maker, he has developed a penchant for mesmerising onlookers. Unfortunately, those glimpses, so far, have been fleeting. There have been knocks where he has left people gaping in awe. Those, however, have usually been followed by inconsistent spells.
A perfect example was him bursting onto the scene on his T20I debut against England at Old Trafford in 2020. Pakistan had to win that game to level the three-match series. But when Babar Azam and Fakhar Zaman departed inside the powerplay, they had a mountain to climb. In that cauldron of pressure, Haider remained unflustered.
It would have been easy for him to wilt under the pressure. Or, adopt something a little more prosaic, just to ensure Pakistan built a solid foundation. That is not how Haider plays his cricket, though. He sparkled on his way to a 33-ball 54. Mohammad Hafeez, who won the Player of the Match award for his unbeaten 86*, raved about the youngster’s performance, quipping that Haider expressed himself despite the pressure. Hafeez also said that Haider should continue playing the way he did that evening at Old Trafford.
To the youngster’s credit, he has not really moved away from that template. He has continued attacking from the outset and has, at times, tried the extravagant without worrying about getting dismissed. It has, rather unsurprisingly, led to patches where runs have been hard to come by. Between December 2020 and November 2021, he only scored 153 runs in T20Is at a meagre average of 12.75.
But when he has gotten going, like he did on debut, he has had a considerable impact. In 19 T20I innings, he has played 30 or more balls on seven occasions. On five of those occasions, he has struck at more than 130. This point is pertinent considering Pakistan have recently been accused of chewing up too many deliveries and not using their batting resources optimally.
It is worth noting how briskly Haider scores in the middle overs too. Throughout his T20 career, he has struck at 137.89 in that phase of the innings, mustering 837 runs at an average of 31. Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan, in comparison, have struck at 129.92 and 119.96, respectively. Iftikhar Ahmed and Khushdil Shah, too, only strike at 109.93 and 107.59 during this phase. Babar and Rizwan have significantly better averages than Haider. However, in modern-day T20 cricket, that might not count for much, considering they are using up deliveries that other batters might use better.
So, it makes a lot of sense to have Haider in the mix. Pakistan have proclaimed that they are not worried about Babar and Rizwan’s approach, and unless something drastic happens, these two will continue as openers for the T20 World Cup. But with Fakhar Zaman not part of the squad, Pakistan will need someone who can raise the tempo as soon as he walks into bat. In simpler words, they need someone like Haider who throws caution to the wind and does not care about how his average might look at the end of the day.
The clear counter-argument here is that Haider has not been consistent. That, though, is a product of the brand of batting he preaches. Because he is taking more risks, he is getting out more often when either the execution or the shot selection goes awry. The flip side is that on days when he gets it right, he will invariably lead his side to victory.
In fact, that is the trade-off that Pakistan might have to think about. They are slated to play seven T20Is against England and have a tri-series in New Zealand before the T20 World Cup. These games give them ample opportunity to see what Haider brings to the table and how his match-winning ability could offset the barren run-scoring patches that will inevitably accrue from time to time.
At the moment, there has been no inclination on Pakistan’s part to play him. Even at the Asia Cup, he was an unused member of the squad. He has not played a T20I since December last year and his most recent competitive fixture was in March this year. But these are calls that could define a World Cup campaign.
Haider should not be expected to score as many runs as Babar and Rizwan usually do. The youngster can do what most Pakistan batters in the current set-up failed to do during the Asia Cup – provide as much impact in as short a time as possible.
Haider could be the breath of fresh air this slightly stale Pakistan batting unit needs. Babar and Rizwan are superb batters, make no mistake. For their runs to hold weight, however, Pakistan might just need Haider. Not to score a 1,000 T20 runs in a calendar year, or make people drool over his cover-drives. But to play T20 cricket with the sort of fearlessness and abandon Pakistan are lacking. Not many, if any, in Pakistan do that better than Haider.