Batting order is a delicate balancing act. When it comes to bowling, it pretty much sorts itself out. Most teams have two or at best three very good bowlers and others who play the holding role.
The best seamers open the attack and spinners bowl in the middle overs. In T20s, captains like to experiment by opening the bowling with spinners, while sometimes captains hold back their best bowlers when a new batsman comes in due to a miscalculation. But that’s not always the case.
However almost every team nowadays struggles with the batting order. Who to open with, who to send at one down, at four, five and six. They look like mere numbers but each batting position has its own characteristic which needs a very particular skillset for the team to work like clockwork every time.
India captain Virat Kohli has made the number three position his own in limited overs cricket, especially in ODIs. In T20s, Kohli has been a lot more flexible since 2017, batting at numbers one, two, three, four and six.
Then in the first T20 against England, Kohli decided to drop himself to number four position and allow the in-form KL Rahul to bat the number three. That move worked like a dream as Rahul smashed an unbeaten century.
This has the potential of greatly reducing the pressure on Kohli to deliver every single time as the top three know they have the cushion of Kohli and MS Dhoni in the middle order and can make a big and quick impact.
The situation in Pakistan is different. They are without their best batsman – Babar Azam – at the moment which has put a spanner in their works.
That has amplified the pressure on captain Sarfraz Ahmed to add steel to the batting order. However, even with Azam in the team, Sarfraz had been batted at the number four position in T20s in 2018 to beef up the batting.
Pakistan team practice session at Old Hararian Sports Club. Sarfraz Ahmed, Mohammed Hafeez, Haris Sohail, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Hussain Talat & Sahibzada Farhan took part in the session. pic.twitter.com/kmGJJ4jS4g— PCB Official (@TheRealPCB) July 3, 2018
In the T20 tri-series in Zimbabwe, it was even more important for Sarfraz to bat number four. In the clash against Zimbabwe on Wednesday, world No1 Pakistan were feeling the pinch chasing 163.
It took a calm 38 from 21 balls from Sarfraz to see his side home on the final over. Batting at number four, Sarfraz is able to stop a collapse in the first place and thus avoid doing the repair job, as he had been doing for a couple of seasons across formats.
Both captains have made a move in the opposite direction in the batting line-ups lately. Kohli might continue to do it to accommodate Rahul in the T20 team and possibly use it as a ploy on ODIs as well, while Sarfraz has already embraced the idea.
For the time being, the number four position in India and Pakistan’s T20 teams are occupied by the ideal batsmen.
Top ranked T20 team Pakistan saw their grip on the No1 position loosen on Wednesday as the ICC updated their rankings.
Pakistan started the T20 tri-series in Zimbabwe on 131 points, looking to consolidate their position at the top of the pile. Australia, India and England all had a decent chance of taking the number one position provided Pakistan slipped in Zimbabwe.
Against Australia, Sarfraz Ahmed’s team suffered a heavy nine-wicket defeat with nearly 10 overs to spare in the T20 tri-series in Harare. The Aussies, meanwhile, have coasted to two thumping wins.
That meant Pakistan, still number one, have climbed down to 129 points in the rankings updated on Wednesday and Australia are up to second position on 126 points from 122 previously.
India, meanwhile, have gained two points and are third on 125 points after their thumping win over England in the first T20 in Manchester.
Sarfraz Ahmed’s men are in scorching form currently in the T20 format and their win over the hosts on Sunday was their eighth on the bounce.
With the game against Australia coming less than 24 hours after the win over Zimbabwe, a couple of changes could be on the cards for Pakistan as they seek to keep everyone fresh.
The men in green opted to rest pace spearhead Mohammad Amir in the tri-series opener and he could be in contention to play on Monday against the formidable Aussies. As such, Sarfraz will have plenty of good selection headaches after the excellent showing of his bowlers in the 74-run win. The likes of Mohammad Nawaz, Usman Khan, Mohammad Hafeez and Hasan Ali picked up two wickets each in the comprehensive win with Shadab Khan chipping in with one.
While the option to rest Amir further will be a tempting one for Sarfraz, his experience and leadership could be vital against Australia.
In the batting department, Hussain Talat had a poor outing in the tournament opener and that continued a poor run for the young batsman in recent times after his struggles to get past good starts in the series against Scotland.
His poor form could open the doors for fellow 22-year-old Sahibzada Farhan. Farhan impressed for Pakistan Super League (PSL) champions Islamabad United in the most recent edition and has impressed with his performances in the domestic circuit. Also in contention for the role is the more experienced Haris Sohail.
With no fresh injury concerns to worry about, expect Sarfraz to persist with the winning combination with the return of Amir being the most likely change.
PAKISTAN LIKELY XI
Fakhar Zaman, Mohammad Hafeez, Hussain Talat, Sarfraz Ahmed (c and wk), Shoaib Malik, Asif Ali, Faheem Ashraf, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Nawaz, Hasan Ali, Mohammad Amir