Divy Tripathi looks at the growth of Mohammad Rizwan from a reliable back-up option to multi-format star.
Contributing with the bat, while also keeping wicket is not an easy job. It takes a heavy toll on the body, and taxes the mind as well. Even someone like Kumar Sangakkara has acknowledged how being relieved of wicketkeeping duty helped him with his batting.
Higher stakes are involved when a keeper is asked to open the innings. While some have done it well – the likes of Adam Gilchrist, Brendon McCullum and Quinton de Kock spring to mind – it is, at best, a select group.
Few foresaw how well Mohammad Rizwan would fill this dual role of a keeper-opener in T20I cricket.
For years, Rizwan lived in shadows of Pakistan’s then captain Sarfaraz Ahmed. Besides a few sporadic appearances in international cricket, he had to make do with the tag of being Pakistan’s second-best keeper. At one stage, it seemed like he had left the matter of his selection to fate.
Then things changed. Sarfaraz Ahmed was removed from the captaincy, and Rizwan soon found an opening in the playing XI across formats. In no time at all, he went from an outside to a central component of Pakistan’s plans, particularly in Test and T20I cricket.
He is now a key figure for his side ahead of the T20 World Cup, and will also be the team’s vice-captain for the event. But the story is bigger than merely a good batter running into form before a world event. Rizwan’s numbers have been world-class player over a decent period of time.
In Test cricket, he averages 42.90 since his return to the side in 2019; earlier this year he was named as one of the Five Wisden Cricketers of the Year. In T20 cricket, over the last year, Rizwan’s form has been unreal.
He has started opening regularly in the last year so and has had amazing returns since the switch. As a T20I opener, he has scored 880 runs at a whopping average of 80 with a healthy strike-rate of 139, In this year’s PSL, Mohammad Rizwan was the second highest run-getter with 500 runs, only Babar Azam, on 554, scored more.
Although his strike-rate of 127.87 might not have been the fastest, Rizwan is no stranger to fireworks at the top of the order. In the seventh game of PSL 6, he hit a 27-ball fifty even as Multan Sultans lost wickets at the other end. After that he switched modes, and allowed his partner Sohaib Maqsood to attack, while he tried to hold firm at the other end. He finished with a 49-ball 76, and his team were comfortable winners in the end.
This switching tactic was again shown in the 21st game of the season, when he started off at a strike-rate of 200, but then slowed down after Maqsood set in. In his first 15 balls, he scored 32 runs, but then added his next 50 runs off 41 deliveries. The end result was a Multan victory with 21 balls to spare.
He is known to have done the opposite as well. In his only T20I hundred earlier this year in Lahore, he was watchful for the first ten overs after Pakistan lost two early wickets. However, he came into his own after settling in, converting his 30-ball 31 to a 64-ball 104, which turned out to be a match-winning effort; none of this teammates passed 21.
Even before the T20 World Cup, Mohammad Rizwan’s 752 men’s T20I runs in 2021 are already the most scored in a calendar year. While, there is no doubt that Babar Azam will be key to Pakistan’s success at the T20 World Cup, he will need assistance. This can come from clever operators like Rizwan, who enters the tournament off the back of a run of form that is unrivalled in the world game.