5 headaches Pakistan take into World Cup 2022
It wouldn’t exactly be a World Cup if Pakistan head into it with a stable, problem-free bunch. As always, and just as many of its predecessors before, the Class of 2022 has its unique brand of flaws, which it would be hoping to somehow fight through and still be crowned the world champions.
Let’s see what we have here.
1- Extra consistent openers
On a good day, this is Pakistan’s strength, and on a bad day, this is also their weakness. Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan are the epitome of consistency. If you combine their T20I averages of 43.66 (Babar) and 52.34 (Rizwan), the resultant number is 95 and change, which is staggering. Such a one-two punch would be dream for most teams but what if we tell you that numbers do not always paint the complete picture.
The average of their strike rates of 129.65 (Babar) and 128.05 (Rizwan) is 128.85, which roughly means that if both of them stay at the crease, on average, and in a hypothetical situation, Pakistan’s score would be 129 after 16.4 overs. With just 20 more balls but lots of wickets left, the best the team could eye would be 170-ish. It’s a total that is not enough in T20 cricket these days.
And as explained above, since Babar and Rizwan, with their extraordinary batting averages but ordinary strike rates, are super consistent, the best scenario goal of 170 is not that arbitrary. It happens quite often. Furthermore, these two bat so much and for so long that a cruder critic (not me) might go as far as saying that they make things difficult for the latter batters — not just from a match point of view but also from a development perspective. The babies down low are dependent on the daddies up top so much that they never get to learn things for themselves.
Does that mean we’re suggesting that Rizwan and Babar should voluntarily fail to give others a chance? Absolutely not! What we do want is for them to show greater urgency even if it costs them a fraction of their consistency. Instead of the dizzying figures above, it would be better for the team if Babar and Rizwan can average around 40 but their strike rates hover in the late 130s. Such a statistical tradeoff would help the team much more.
2- Extra inconsistent rest of them
Death, taxes and middle-order disappointments. With due apologies to Benjamin Franklin, these are the revised certainties of life as a Pakistan cricket fan.
The numbers three, four, five and six remain Pakistan’s cricket’s problematic middle child. It’s inconsistent, perennial failure and at times just plain ugly to look at.
Many a remedy has been tried but none have worked. Drop Fakhar Zaman they said, give Khushdil Shah a run they said, bring back Haider Ali they said, experiment with Iftikhar Ahmed they said. Even bringing back Shan Masood — which seemed like a long overdue masterstroke at the time — didn’t work either. The middle order sans Mohammad Nawaz (nothing against him, he’s good) is a strange musical chair where whoever holds the position looks the worst player ever, but whoever is outside is branded the answer to all our problems.
The only constant and consistent feature of it is Asif Ali, who somehow retains his number six spot series in, series out despite a grand average of 15.48.
God help us all.
3- Big tourney jitters
There was the Saleem Jaffar gaffe in 1987, the Waqar Younis over in 1996, the meltdown in 1999, Misbah’s scoop shot in 2007, the Rahat Ali drop catch in 2015 and Hasan Ali’s replication of it in 2021.
In world cups, no matter what kind and format, Pakistan players remain prone to big blunders at the most inopportune moments. When the lights shine the brightest, some of our players can get caught like a deer in the headlights.
Would 2022 be any different? The way the team fared in the final of the Asia Cup, chances are that we shouldn’t keep our hopes high.
4- Questionable think tank
As said many times before, Babar Azam the batter is almost unquestionable. He is in a league of his own. Babar the captain though is not the same. From what we’ve seen in his two years as the skipper is that he is not the bravest of captains.
He can at times go full Misbah and opt for the safest strategy, even in the shortest format. Some of his calls — such as Mohammad Nawaz’s promotion in the India game during Asia Cup — have paid off in style too but those have been few and far in between.
Add to him a head coach who can wax philosophical on you when quizzed about the team’s performance, and this becomes not the most thinking of the think tanks. Here’s hoping that the influence of Matthew Hayden and Shaun Tait could offset whatever lessons on climatic realities the team gets from Saqlain Mushtaq.
5- The ‘similarity’ hunters
The World Cup 2022 is in Australia, which is the same place where Pakistan won the 50-over World Cup for the one and only time in 1992. The similarity of land could mean that there could be comparisons made between the two campaigns all tournament long, creating unnecessary hype around and pressure on the players.
And as explained above, our cricket representatives do not hold up well in face of expectations. Thus, this could potentially be a perfect recipe of disaster, which should be avoided at all costs.