Monday, September 12, 2022

Pakistan doesn't have a Middle Order - So what?

Leading up to the Asia Cup, there was an article about how Pakistan's middle order was not getting enough time in the middle to showcase their ability. The prolific form of the top order was the culprit, who were facing too many deliveries and scoring at less than an ideal strike rate.

Now that the Asia Cup is over, one can look back and see that Pakistan's middle order got ample chances and they failed miserably. Every. Single. Game.

Babar Azam was not at his best. I would say grossly unlucky rather than woefully out of form, but considering he was back in the pavilion within the powerplay every game (barring one), the likes of Fakhar, Iftikhar, Khushdil, and Asif got plenty of chances.

And they all collectively showed the world how useless they are.

FAKHAR ZAMAN
Asia Cup Scores: 10, 15, 5, 13, 0. Yes, I am not counting the 50 odd against Hong Kong.

Even leading up to the Asia Cup, Fakhar had scores of 10, 10, 12, 0. 

Add to that the fact that he dropped Kohli second ball, and that his misfields gave India 8 valuable extra runs. He is lucky Pakistan chased down 180 odd and didn't lose by 5 runs or so.

It is time Pakistan move on from Fakhar the T20 batsman.

IFTIKHAR AHMED
I am sorry but we do not need batsmen who score run a ball 30 odds. What is the point?

In a team that has openers that are accumulators, you don't need another batsman who does the same.

Please look elsewhere.

KHUSHDIL SHAH
Why is he even in the T20 team?

In 18 T20I innings, he has a highest score of 36. Against Zimbabwe.

His next highest is 35. Against Hong Kong.

He also has a 34. Against Bangladesh.

In the remaining 15 innings he has not crossed 20.

Why is he in the team?

ASIF ALI
He is way too over rated. 

He has played 45 T20 Internationals now, and the only game that he has actually won for Pakistan is the one against Afghanistan at the T20 World Cup last year.

Besides that, if all what you want is 16 off 8, your bowlers can get you that. You do not need Asif Ali.

Haris Rauf - 13* off 7 vs India
Shahnawaz Dahani - 16 off 6 vs India
Naseem Shah - 14* off 4 vs Afghanistan

These are actually better returns than Asif. 

Please move on from this over rated slogger.


Is blaming the top order fair? 

Now that it is established that Pakistan does not have a middle order, I feel the blame given to the top order for not giving other batsmen enough chances was unfounded.

Pakistan's T20I top order gave us successful chases of 208/3 vs WI, 205/1 vs SA, and 189/6 vs SA in the last 12 months.

Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan, despite their "below par" strike rates and low risk approach in the powerplay led Pakistan to 3 record chases in 12 months.

Not to mention all the other chases of scores between 120 and 170.

It has worked in the past. It will work again in the future.

Unfortunately Babar did not score this Asia Cup. If he did, it may have been a different story.

What do we do about the middle order then?

I don't see any replacements to be honest.

Yes there is Haider Ali, who was in the Asia Cup squad, but did not get a single game.

In my view, he is better than the 4 batsmen mentioned above.

Shan Masood has been in the runs in domestic and county cricket. He has a strong case for inclusion in this side.

Even if you bring in these two, Pakistan will be left with two passengers. 

And honestly, I do not think it will make a difference.

Whether you have Fakhar, Iftikhar, Khushdil, Asif or you have Shan, Haider, Khushdil, Asif. Whether you bring in Shoaib Malik. Or even if you bring in Javed Miandad.

It will make no difference whatsoever. You can play rabbits in the middle order for all I care.

Pakistan's T20 success has been achieved on the back of great knocks by Babar and Rizwan, and some outstanding pace and spin bowling.

That is your team right there - Babar, Rizwan, Shadab, Nawaz, and any 3 out of Shaheen, Naseem, Haris, Hasnain, Dhahani, Waseem Jr.

The middle order is just a formality. Whoever is there, however they play. Unless Babar Azam scores, Pakistan will not win consistently in my view.

T20 World Cup Squad

With the 15-man squad for the T20 World Cup to be announced by 15 September, it seems unlikely that there will be any major changes.

You can't go into a World Cup with inexperienced players, and the current crop are the ones Pakistan has banked on for the past year.

Perhaps Shan Masood may get a look in. Any of Fakhar, Iftikhar, Khushdil, and Asif can be dropped for Shan really.

Haider should find a place in the constantly failing middle order. I don't get why he wasn't given a chance especially considering that he has scores of 45, 68, and 31 in his last three T20Is.

Having said all this, I would also like everyone to note that this Pakistan team under Babar is a very good team.

They reached the semi finals of the T20 World Cup in 2021, after not qualifying for the knock outs in 2014 and 2016.

They reached the final of the Asia Cup 2022, which they did not qualify for in 2018 and 2016.

So something is right about this team. They are moving in the right direction.

With some tweaks, they will win a tournament too, in the not so distant future.

This is what I think Pakistan's 15-man squad will look like:

Babar Azam, Mohammad Rizwan, Fakhar Zaman, Khushdil Shah, Haider Ali, Shan Masood, Asif Ali, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Nawaz, Shaheen Afridi, Naseem Shah, Haris Rauf, Mohammad Waseem, Mohammad Hasnain, Shahnawaz Dahani

And Pakistan's first XI should be:

1. Babar Azam 2. Mohd. Rizwan 3. Shan Masood 4. Haider Ali 5. Mohd. Nawaz 6. Shadab Khan 7. Asif Ali 8. Haris Rauf 9. Mohd. Waseem 10. Naseem Shah 11. Shaheen Afridi 

A strong bowling line up with 4 pacers and 2 spinners will be ideal for Australia I believe.

And there is enough batting there for 20 overs.

After all, Pakistan only need Babar Azam and Rizwan!

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