Just under a year remains until the 2020 T20 World Cup gets under way in Australia, with the 12 top teams set to battle it out for the grand prize Down Under.
The premier international sides have already shifted their focus to the shortest format of the game with the next 12 months set to afford them ample time to get their T20 combinations right.
As we take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of the major contenders for the 2020 tournament, here is our assessment of Pakistan, who are the No1 ranked team in the format. Click here to read about the other leading contenders for the tournament.
While they have been the undisputed T20 kings for large parts of the last two years, the wheels have started to come off completely for the Men in Green who have endured a horrendous 2019. More recently, Pakistan were whitewashed 3-0 on home soil by a second-string Sri Lanka side and it was only the second time in history that they have been on the receiving end of such a scoreline.
That abject humiliation was followed by another one in Australia, where they only escaped a 3-0 encore at the hands of the hosts after rain stopped play in the series opener.
The defeats to Australia and Sri Lanka mean that Pakistan have now lost four T20I series on the bounce following earlier reversals at the hands of England and South Africa. It also means that they have failed to win a single game in the format under Misbah-ul-Haq after the former Pakistan skipper was appointed in the dual role of head coach and chief selector of the side.
In Babar Azam, Pakistan have the top ranked T20 batsman in the world with the right-hander well on his way to establishing himself as one of the greatest players to emerge from the country.
The 25-year-old star batsman is averaging over 50 in the format since making his debut in September 2016 with the help of 12 fifties in just 36 innings. More pressure has now been heaped on his shoulders, as Misbah has appointed him T20 skipper in place of the deposed Sarfraz.
While Babar has been key at the top of the batting order, the spin attack led by Shadab Khan and Imad Wasim have played equally crucial roles with the ball. Both the spinners currently feature in the top 10 the T20 rankings for bowlers and average around 21 with the ball. Their economy-rates are pretty healthy as well.
Despite the increased focus on fitness during the tenure of previous head coach Mickey Arthur, Pakistan’s fielding still remains sub-par for a top international side with their catching, in particular, letting them down on multiple occasions.
While their neighbours and arch-rivals India have made substantial progress in that regard over the past five years, the Men in Green have largely remained stagnant. In a major tournament like a World Cup, every run saved on the field could prove to be crucial while a dropped catch is usually costly given the fine margins at play.
Also, the middle-order remains a shaky one and Babar cannot single-handedly score the runs all the time. While Misbah might have erred in his experiment to recall Umar Akmal and Ahmed Shehzad in the recent Sri Lanka debacle, the head coach was not too far off the mark when he cited a dearth of emerging batting options in the domestic T20 circuit.
What they need to do in the next 12 months
Pakistan and Misbah’s priority going forward is to clearly find enough match-winners with the bat to supplement Babar at the top. Haris Sohail was starting to show some real consistency over the past year, he once again flattered to deceive with some tame dismissals in Australia. Meanwhile, opener Fakhar Zaman looks completely devoid of confidence in the T20I format with his swashbuckling introduction to international cricket now looking like a thing of the distant past.
The Men in Green desperately need other batsmen to step up to the plate if they are to transform into a top side once again, and all eyes will be on the likes of Imam-ul-Haq and even Abid Ali to do just that in the coming months.
They also lack an explosive option with the bat in the death overs with only Imad Wasim showing some gumption in recent times. Asif Ali has been pretty ordinary in his recent outings with the team and the middle-order batsman has been rightly shown the door after a string of poor displays. In his place, Ifitkhar Ahmed has been recalled to international cricket and the all-rounder showed plenty of promising signs in the series defeat in Australia.
Key clashes going forward
Pakistan had a good chance to acclimatise themselves to Aussie conditions in their recent surrender to Aaron Finch’s men though they failed to really make a mark. It was also the end of their limited-overs engagement for the foreseeable future with their next assignment set to come only in July next year.
Then, Babar and his men will take on Ireland and England in the summer before they get a final chance to sharpen their tools in the 2020 Asia Cup.
The 2020 edition of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) also assumes greater significance now and the Men in Green will hope that some new names can put their hands up to give them more options and depth.
Key Man – Babar Azam
There is no doubt that Pakistan’s fortunes will revolve around Babar with the right-hander’s struggles in the series against Sri Lanka exposing the vulnerability in Pakistan’s batting. Having now been appointed as the skipper of the T20I outfit, the responsibility on Babar’s shoulders has only increased manifold.
He has shown that he is very much up to the task by registered back to back half-centuries against Australia and he will need to keep doing it over and over again given Pakistan’s well exposed frailties.
A half-century in every three innings and an average of 50.17 are phenomenal numbers for any batsman in the shortest format, and it is no wonder then that the prodigy is the No1 ranked T20I batsman by some distance.
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