Babar’s Azam maiden series as Pakistan’s T20I captain proved to be a chastening experience with the Men in Green comprehensively turned over by Australia (2-0) in the three-match series.
The visitors were thoroughly outplayed in all departments by the Aussies and would most definitely have lost their current No1 ranking as well, had rain not stopped the first T20 in Sydney.
While Babar has only just taken over the T20 reins, the side’s woes very much predate his appointment with just one win and nine defeats to show for from 10 outings in the current year.
For head coach and chief selector Misbah-ul-Haq, the record is now five defeats in six T20I clashes. The mandate for the former highly respected skipper on his appointment after the 2019 World Cup, was primarily to shore up Pakistan’s dwindling Test and ODI fortunes. However, just a few months into his tenure, Misbah now finds himself with the unenviable task of having to fix all three set-ups of the national team.
With less than a year remaining for the T20 World Cup to take place in Australia itself, Pakistan have plenty of holes to plug in a side which has been ranked No1 for two years and running now. Very few positives, if any, can be taken from a shambles of a series with the individual display of Babar and the emergence of Iftikhar Ahmed as a viable lower-order aggressor just about covering it.
The question marks, though, are aplenty for Misbah and Babar.
Asif Ali’s time has run out
Pakistan’s search for an explosive hitter for the death overs has been a longstanding one and it is Asif Ali who has been given the long rope in that regard.
However, that rope is now running out with the right-hander failing to come good despite umpteen chances in the T20 setup. While much of the focus has been on opener Fakhar Zaman’s disastrous T20 form, Asif has been equally culpable with an average of just over 10 in 2019.
The middle-order batsman has a high score of only 23 in his last nine innings for Pakistan and his latest displays in Australia should all but confirm his impending axing from the squad.
He hasn’t really been able to cut it at the international level, in both ODIs and T20s, despite some promising signs in the Pakistan Super League.
Misbah’s botched selections not helping matter either
Misbah had been criticised for recalling Umar Akmal and Ahmed Shehzad in the 3-0 series loss to Sri Lanka and the head coach responded by pointing to a lack of batting talent in Pakistan’s domestic pool.
While there might be a hint of truth in Misbah’s reasoning, the fact that he quickly discarded the two top-order batsman after the series whitewash while continuing to give others a long run, does not pain him favourably.
Fakhar Zaman has continued to be persisted with, despite his horrendous T20I form, while the same has been the case for Asif Ali. Khushdil Shah was the fresh face called up to the squad for the Australia tour but the middle-over batsman was only given an opportunity in the final T20.
In the bowling department, Usman Qadir was a surprise call-up to the squad by Misbah with the leg-spinner barely creating an impression in his Big Bash League stint earlier this year. While his selection turned plenty of heads, Misbah then made sure it hardly mattered by not giving the spinner a single appearance in Australia.
It would be all well and good if there were more opportunities waiting down the line for the likes of Qadir, Khushdil and even young pacer Muhammad Musa. The problem, however, is that there aren’t many with Pakistan not set to play a single limited-overs clash until July, next year.
So what exactly was Misbah saving these players for?
Babar needs time but is there any?
“We have learnt a lot from this series and we’ll take the positives and come back hard in the next series,” a crestfallen Babar stated after the Perth humbling.
“I have learnt a lot, there is a lot to learn as well. Hopefully, I’ll apply it in the future.”
There is no denying that there are many tricks to learn for Babar as captain after his side’s lopsided defeat in Australia. But, with just five more T20Is to come for Pakistan ahead of next year’s World Cup, the team management might have left him with too little time to learn the ropes.
The batting prodigy is not even the captain of his Pakistan Super League (PSL) outfit Karachi Kings, with his national team-mate Imad Wasim leading that franchise instead.
While he has welcomed the captaincy publicly, the fact that the burden of leading has come at a time when the team is already so reliant on his batting is not a great situation to be in for Babar.
Time is not on his side, or Pakistan’s, with the World Cup fast approaching, and the team management will now have to blindly hope that their gutsy decision will bear fruit ultimately.
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