Before the start of the World T20, very few backed Pakistan to seriously challenge other teams. They didn’t have the greatest of build-ups for the tournament as they lost a T20 series in New Zealand and failed to make it to the final of the Asia Cup in Bangladesh. What’s more, they had to make substantial changes to the squad before the tournament started, bringing in opener Ahmed Shehzad, Sharjeel Khan and Khalid Latif.
Even the captaincy of Shahid Afridi came under the scanner but the Pakistan management put their faith in Afridi and tried and tested players like Shehzad and Shoaib Malik. And despite their below par performances before the World T20, Pakistan Test captain Misbah-ul Haq believes this current team has what it takes to not only surprise the more fancied sides, but also go for the title in India.
“Looking purely on record and stats, yes Pakistan haven’t always looked like the favourites. But when it comes to teams like Pakistan, you never predict on the basis of just stats. On their day they can perform like champions. That’s why, being a Pakistani, I know we can pull of a victory from anywhere,” Misbah told Sport360 before the start of the Super 10 stage of the World T20.
The reason behind Misbah’s faith in the team, apart from having been a part of it, is the team’s strong bowling attack.
Left-arm quick Mohammad Amir has made a stupendous return to international cricket and fellow pacers Mohammad Irfan and Wahab Riaz add teeth to the attack. Add seasoned spinners Afridi and Malik to the mix and you have an armoury capable of destroying any batting line up on any wicket.
“At the moment we have a very good bowling line-up. Especially in T20 cricket that gives you a great chance to win. Because you only need one or two batsmen to click and put up a good total and you are in a position to go for a win,” Misbah opined.
“We have a lot of game changers in our bowling department. There is Amir, obviously, Irfan and Riaz and that is an excellent pace attack. Afridi, with the ball alone, can change the game in four overs. With the bat, I feel Hafeez, Shehzad, Sarfaraz Ahmed have got the potential but they haven’t been consistent. But you never know…
“Other teams go for totals like 180 or 190 in T20s. But the Pakistan team thinks ‘Ok, let’s go for 150 plus’. That is a good score on any kind of pitch for our bowlers. If you look at India, they don’t have a bowling line-up which can get other teams out cheaply. But it’s their batting which puts pressure on other teams who try to set a target of 190 or 200 but end up with 120-130. So that is how the pressure works.”
And as if to justify Misbah’s faith in the team, Pakistan came up with a clinical effort in their opening match against a tricky opponent in Bangladesh.
Their batting, which has long been their Achilles heel, scored 201 and then the bowlers came to the party, sealing a comprehensive 55-run win.
Misbah believes the management has picked the right combination for the World T20 and they have the potential to taste success regularly.
“The current squad is much better. They have good bowlers and decent batsmen who are pretty experienced. A few of them like Shehzad performed very well in the Pakistan Super League and some also did well in a few games in the Asia Cup. It’s a good team at the moment.
“Shehzad and Sharjeel at the top with Hafeez at No. 3 followed by Sarfaraz. Then you have Umar Akmal, Malik and Afridi. That is a good and long batting line up and if the wickets are good, they can really score big.
“Shehzad, especially, should always have been there in the squad. He is the one opener who has performed consistently for the team over a period of time and across formats. He had been out of form a bit and that is why the selectors had second thoughts about him. But he has been picked in the team and that is the correct call,” said the 41-year-old.
As far as Afridi the captain is concerned, Misbah feels he is the right man for the job and he, along with the entire squad, should put the tumultuous build-up to the tournament – which included uncertainty over their participation due to political tensions between India and Pakistan – behind them.
“Afridi just needs to focus on the job. It’s an important tournament for him, maybe his last World Cup. All he needs to concentrate on is how to take the team forward in the tournament. And I am sure he can do that.
“Uncertainty can always be a problem. But the best you can do is focus on what you can do. You should not worry about the ‘uncontrollables’. All you need to think about is your game, your mindset, your form going into a tournament. That is how I have always approached the game and that is what I ask the boys to do as well.”
When asked to pick the players he feels can make a big impact during the World T20, Misbah went for two from the subcontinent and one from South Africa. No points for guessing the names, though.
“I think Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers will have a good tournament. The kind of form Virat is in, I expect him to do well in home conditions. And AB has a lot of experience playing in India and can do a lot of damage.
“On the bowling front, I feel Amir has the ability to unsettle any batsman and I expect a lot from him this World T20,” he added.