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T20 World Cup 2022

Forget the Shaheen ‘what-if’, Pakistan’s day will come

Sarah Waris by Sarah Waris
@swaris16 5 minute read

Pakistan’s journey in the T20 World Cup might have been characteristically unpredictable, but there’s enough to suggest they could be an unbeatable team in the future, writes Sarah Waris.

Babar Azam in the firing line, Mohammad Rizwan under the scanner: the reaction of several of Pakistan’s former players after their shambolic defeat to Zimbabwe was, unsurprisingly, OTT – bordering on personal attacks and slander. As an early exit loomed, chaos reigned in Pakistan cricket circles, with discussions over the squad picked, the favouritism that existed in the circuit and perceived ‘parchi’ selections. Two weeks later, following a dramatic turnaround, Babar is the star of the nation and Rizwan is indispensable. The same critics are showing off their unrhythmic dance moves on live television and the selections are now inspired, with the players turning from scared individuals into a fearless group. When they lost in the final, the wheel turned again. For some, the question of whether Babar should continue as captain wasn’t even a question. Fail to win a World Cup, even when you lose a final narrowly to a side hailed as one of the greatest in limited-overs history after your best bowler gets injured, and you’ve got to go.

Hypocritical statements following mixed results will always exist, and especially in places where passion for cricket can out run the knowledge of it, but once the euphoria of reaching the final and the shock of losing it dies down, we should get ready to acknowledge the potential greatness of this Pakistan side. Even when we ignore factors of luck, which blessed them with a favourable match-up in the semi-final, this is a serious team with most bases covered, led by a skipper who is set to rule cricket for at least the next half-decade.


Importantly, its a young team. Babar is 27. Iftikhar Ahmed (33), Mohammad Rizwan (30) and Shan Masood are the only members into their fourth decades. Shaheen Afridi is 22 and an attack leader. Haris Rauf is 28 and a veteran. Shadab Khan is 24 and arguably the best T20 all-rounder in the world. His spin bowling partner Mohammad Nawaz is two years away from 30. Naseem Shah is still a teenager. Mohammad Haris and Mohammad Wasim Jr. are both 21.

It’s not only about continuity but also about identifying and carrying forward a team that has the biggest chance of achieving supremacy, and this group is the most likely to take them there, defined by the youngsters, who show character beyond their years. Naseem’s debut against India in the Asia Cup remains the prime example.

The 19-year-old had fought off cramps and could barely walk – forget run. He hobbled through his run-up, fell to the ground in pain after every delivery, but bowled his entire spell. He was fast even when struggling, and was rewarded with the big scalp of Suryakumar Yadav, as he finished his four overs conceding only 27 runs. Against England, on Sunday, he bowled arguably the greatest wicketless spell in T20 history, getting thick edges but failing to find luck going his way. It was, in a way, quintessentially Pakistan. They leave you thrilled, seduce with their skills, and tease you before pulling away, leaving you wanting more.

If the pace triumvirate of Rauf, Shaheen and Naseem take you on the raw world of high pace, the spinners act as speed-breakers, slowing down the game and offering no breathing space. If Shadab is not tying down the batters, he is sprinting around the field, effecting direct hits and lifting the fielding standards of the side – and that’s saying something considering the number of memes that have risen from the disappointment of watching Pakistan trying to take the most simple catches.

Babar and Rizwan have shut out the criticism and an exciting middle order gives them the edge. Haris, relatively unknown, played handy, quick knocks in the tournament, Iftikhar helped changed the momentum against India and the emergence of Shadab the batter to go with Nawaz’s improved batting gives them plenty of options, with the likes of Haider Ali, Khushdil Shah and Asif Ali around as well. Overall, Pakistan’s middle order – long considered their weak link – had the fourth-best strike rate in the tournament and the signs look promising.

Don’t mistake me – they’re not perfect. They would like the openers to bat with more aggression and settle down on a fixed middle order. They would want the fast bowlers to remain fit more consistently. The spin attack can ideally have another option and yes, the fielding efforts provide fodder for laughter from time to time, but these are areas which Pakistan can better as they go along, and not areas that need a massive overhaul.

Unlike Indian cricket, which is engulfed in dressing room leaks, insider details from Pakistan’s dressing room, barring the odd videos, are few and hard to find. Considering the noise outside, its remarkable how Babar – with Matthew Hayden as a tournament-specialist good-vibes coach – shields the team from any controversy. In a game consisting of many individuals, having each others’ backs and covering up their flaws is of utmost importance, and with a genuine love for each other and respect for their opponents, Pakistan is fast developing into a universally-liked side. Teammates flock to defend each other when any is going through a lull, they meet together and bond over food to get over the disappointment of the final’s loss and the captain refuses to throw his troops under the bus. All very likeable traits. Combine that with the on-field sizzle they are capable of producing, and it’s a team people can get behind.

While other sides now have to look past their struggling veterans and start from scratch, Pakistan already have a foundation they have built and strengthened, giving them the extra advantage as they look towards 2024. The players revel in each others’ company, get visibly emotional but support each other after a loss and are the first to acknowledge the greatness of a rival player. Most of all, they enjoy their cricket, and teams like that achieve highs.

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