Monday, 17 September 2012

Analyzing Pakistan's preparation for the T20 WC

For someone who follows cricket, it is obvious to them that the Pakistani team is one incredibly unexplainable phenomena – at times they exceed miraculous expectations, play like cornered tigers and snatch the unlikeliest victories and other (more often) times, they falter when no one anticipates them to. A cricket fan would know that all predictions, calculations, and projections go haywire when Pakistan takes the field of play. Add to that the unpredictability and spice that comes with T20 cricket and you know you are bound to get an intense mix which can be either being exhilarating or disastrous.
This ever-mercurial Pakistani team is now on its way to Sri Lanka to play the 4th T20 World Cup. Considering that historically the team has reached the semi finals on all occasions, won the finals once and lost it once, one would agree that the team has had the most impressive record in T20 world cups amongst all teams and so there are high chances that the team will do well this time around too.
Being a Pakistani cricket fan, I hope and pray the team does well and wins the cup, but I have my share of concerns. Starting with the selection issues, it surprised me how Junaid Khan, Hammad Azam and Azhar Mahmood missed out to make it to the final 15. The Hammad Azam argument can be countered by the fact that Abdul Razzaq takes his spot and having established himself with some heroic performances, it seems fair enough. Azhar Mahmood, one can say has not played domestic cricket for Pakistan and hence the PCB did not include him. But given how Junaid Khan performed in the series against Sri Lanka, it is baffling to see that the selection committee persisted with Sami and Sohail Tanvir and overlooked such a talent.
But now since the selection is done and final XV decided, there are other potential dangers that the team might have to counter; a major one being the over-dependence on Saeed Ajmal. Saeed is undoubtedly the best spinner in the game at the moment and in recent games, the team’s dependency on him to get match-turning wickets, has led to more defeats than wins. Ajmal will keep taking wickets but in a case where he has an off-day, Pakistan has to have other bowlers who can stand up and do the needful. Hafeez will be very careful with the way he uses his prime spinner, but the other bowlers too will have to fulfil wicket-taking responsibilities.
In Dubai, Shoaib Malik was playing as the batsman who came in at number 4, seemingly to play the Misbah-ish role in the line-up – which is, provide stability to a good start or hold one end in the case of a bad start. But given his recent form, it might be a concern for the team if the first 2 wickets fall early and an out of form Malik walks out and loses his wicket cheaply. This is something which happened in Dubai recently and as a result Pakistan was all out for 74. The Akmal brothers will continue playing the aggressive way they play, and with Afridi and Abdul Razzaq playing the middle order finishers, it is very important job that Malik will have to pull off – something which he has successfully done in the past; for example, in the final of the T20 WC, 2009.
Imran Nazir’s form is another thing which is worrying. His domestic exploits are well known to everyone but his recent form vs Australia was not up to the expectations. Scores of 22, 0, 1 do not do the justice to the talent he has, and he will need to step it up.  If it is Nazir’s form which is a concern, on the other end it is Hafeez’s slow starts which work good sometimes but might not work every time. Currently he’s the batsman who has the highest dot-ball % (48.52, to be exact) amongst all batsmen who’ve scored more than 500 runs in T20 (Link). If Pakistan are to get a good start, then either one of them will have to bat smartly and aggressively, along with Jamshed.
Another thing which might be a concern is Sohail Tanvir’s and Abdul Razzaq’s lack of pace. Tanvir, regarded as a T20 specialist, has done well in the format so far but given that most of the overs will be bowled by Gul, Afridi, Ajmal and Hafeez, Tanvir seems like the bowler who might be targeted by the opposition given his lack of pace. The earlier he finishes his bowling quota, the better – Hafeez should avoid Tanvir in the death overs if the opposition has good batsmen at that point in time.
Pakistan are in Group D of the tournament, placed alongside New Zealand and Bangladesh. If Pakistan wins at least one game then they most likely will go into a Super 8 group which will involve Australia, India and South Africa (granted that there are no major upsets). This means that there is a tough group on its way and given how Pakistan performed against Australia in the recently concluded T20 series, Pakistan will have to watch out for a situation where they have to chase a total greater than 150. Historically Pakistan has only once chased a total of greater than 150 and the third T20 versus Australia showed the other teams the situation where it hurts Pakistan the most. Chasing is something which the team will have to work on, mentally more than anything else; something which hopefully Whatmore has taken a note of.
Irrespective of what the squad is and what potential problems they might face, the sure thing is that the fans are in for a treat when Pakistan takes the field of play, starting on 23rd September against New Zealand. This format is about character and with the depth of talent that comes with this team; Pakistan has a very good chance of winning the trophy for the 2nd time.
That being said, it will be not be an easy task and so regardless of whether the team conquers or explodes, one thing is certain: this bunch will entertain.  A squad which has the likes of Boom Boom Afridi, Bang Bang Razzaq, Spin King Ajmal, Spill King Akmal, Professor Hafeez, Guldozer, Imran Nazir – the T20 specialist and an angry Sami, is nothing short of pure entertainment and will thrill the audiences of this World Cup.


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