T20 World Cup: Timid Pakistan look into a hazy T20I future | Crickit
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T20 World Cup: Timid Pakistan look into a hazy T20I future

Jun 16, 2024 07:27 AM IST

Tame batting, pace bowling and comical fielding all leaves them with plenty to sort out after a first-round exit

Every now and then they implode, crash to defeat from a winning position, but dull is not a word one associates with the Pakistan cricket team.

Pakistan's Imad Wasim, third right, celebrates with teammates after the run-out of Canada's Nicholas Kirton during the ICC Men's T20 World Cup(AP)
Pakistan's Imad Wasim, third right, celebrates with teammates after the run-out of Canada's Nicholas Kirton during the ICC Men's T20 World Cup(AP)

It’s a team that never ceases to thrill, the opposition is always wary of a sudden turn of events through a cameo or a brilliant burst of bowling magic. No side has reached more finals in ICC T20 World Cup than Pakistan (England are joint top with three), winning the title in 2009.

Over the years they have been identified with mercurial, street-smart cricketers with flair who could also be inconsistent and frustratingly moody. But dull? Never.

Pakistan’s early exit from the ICC T20 World Cup hasn’t come as a surprise. What the cricket world is coming to terms is the listlessness, timidity of Babar Azam’s men in their two defeats in Group A that led to their elimination.

T20 cricket is all about playing freely, and it was strange to see the Pakistan players seized with fear even against an inexperienced side like USA – most evident in the Super Over loss to the co-hosts.

For all his skill and experience, fast bowler Mohammad Amir, who has sized up the best in all conditions, produced a bizarre Super Over, gifting wides down the leg side. In contrast, USA pacer Saurabh Netravalkar, for whom it was the most high-profile game of his career till then, kept his nerves and stuck to his task.

In fielding too, it was a horror show for Pakistan. USA batters Aaron Jones and Harmeet Singh capitalised on their sloppiness to run a number of byes – on three balls they ran a bye on a wide – to finish with 18 runs. Against India, despite their bowlers having run through the top and middle-order, their fielding became a case of amusement for the spectators. Nothing captured it better than when the camera panned to the India dug-out in the 19th over. Even with his team nine wickets down, captain Rohit Sharma was smiling at the comedy of errors as Pakistan fielders twice conceded overthrows to the last-wicket pair of Mohammed Siraj and Arshdeep Singh.

Pakistan’s Gary Kirsten era has got off to a horrible start. Having taken charge of the white-ball squad less than two weeks before the T20 World Cup, he cut a tortured figure in the dug out watching his side stutter and stumble out of the tournament. After the Ireland match was called off on Friday, the last edition’s runners-up were officially knocked out of the tournament. This is Pakistan’s second group-stage exit in back-to-back ICC tournaments. They were also knocked out in the group stage of last year’s ODI World Cup in India. In a T20 World Cup, it is the earliest Pakistan have been eliminated, after played just three games.

Coach Kirsten has tough calls to make, starting with the leadership. Captain Babar Azam couldn’t get himself and his team to shed the conservative approach. The cricket his team played was outdated.

The pitches in New York were difficult for batting but what happened in Dallas was simply poor cricket. On a decent surface, Pakistan scratched their way to a below-par 159 against USA. Babar was top-scorer with 44 but a strike-rate of 102.33 didn’t help. It exposed their lack of preparation with no warm-up games to help adapt.

Overall, their batting lacked explosive power sorely needed for a T20 line-up. The heat is on both the openers. Kirsten will have a look at their overall SRs – Babar’s is 129.46 after 122 T20Is, Mohammed Rizwan’s is 126.57 after 101. They needed an enforcer who could put the bowlers under pressure with a blazing cameo. Iftikhar Ahmed was a let down. In the Super Over against USA, he just wasn’t able to connect against Netravalkar, consuming three balls to get four runs. In the high-pressure game against India, he seemed to be overcome by stage fright during his torrid stay of 9 balls for just five runs. His overall strike-rate is just 129.11.

Their bowling is equally to blame. Despite all their quality, they were unable to put USA’s batting under pressure while defending a total of 159. For a dynamic pace unit of Shaheen Shah Afridi, Naseem Shah, Amir and Haris Rauf, taking just three wickets of an inexperienced line-up was inexcusable.

The T20 World Cup format gives the best chance for the seasoned teams to qualify for the Super 8. In a five-team pool, even if you suffered one shock loss you can catch up. If you still don’t make it, you have no one else to blame. It is a hard fact Pakistan has to live with.

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