Putting a rocky lead-in to one side, Pakistan have emerged as the team to beat at the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup.
During training, the Pakistan men’s cricket team is in the habit of taking a flag or two out to the middle, something that coach Saqlain Mushtaq has brought into the culture.
It’s meant to act as a constant reminder of the pride of playing for their nation. “This team represents the entire country,” the coach said. “It reminds [the players] that 220 million people stand united.”
That feeling of pride and togetherness has served the team well as they have stormed through the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2021 so far, especially considering their lead-up into the tournament was far from ideal: there was a late change in coaching staff and matches against England, New Zealand and Afghanistan were called off owing to various reasons.
So, success was sweet when Pakistan became the first team to seal their place in the semi-final, doing so with a game to spare.
Their journey began when they made World Cup history by beating arch-rivals India for the first time in a men’s World Cup. The emphatic manner of that victory infused in the team a boost in morale and confidence that has carried them and grown in strength with every success.
Road to the semi-finals
The tone for Pakistan’s campaign was set in their very first over of the competition. Shaheen Afridi had visualised getting India’s top three batters out, and checked off two of those wickets in his first spell where he was near unplayable. Rohit Sharma was trapped lbw by a yorker, while KL Rahul was bowled by one coming into him. He then returned to have Virat Kohli caught behind just when the India skipper was getting ready to hit out at the death.
After a strong bowling performance to keep India to 151/7, Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan chased down the target with an unbroken opening stand.
Azam had kept emotions in check to remind fans and his team that this was just the start for Pakistan. And it gave them the perfect platform from which to take off.
Against New Zealand, after they chose to bowl, Haris Rauf bowled with pace and fire. One of his yorkers hit 149kph on the speed gun and he finished with four wickets – though curiously many of them coming with his slower variation. With the bowlers all doing their bit, Pakistan restricted New Zealand to 134/8.
This time, the chase was trickier. At 87/5 in the 15th over, New Zealand were well in the game, but Asif Ali played the finisher’s role to perfection, smashing three sixes in his 12-ball 27* to seal the game.
Ali was the star of the chase against Afghanistan too. Naveen-ul-Haq had bowled an excellent 18th over, which went for just two runs, leaving Pakistan 24 to get off the last two overs. Thanks to Ali, they needed just one of those: He smashed four sixes off Karim Janat to complete a chase of 148 to seal their third win in a row.
Earlier in that game, Azam had made his second fifty of the tournament.
His third came against Namibia, with the Azam-Rizwan pair again on song. Choosing to bat this time, they played out a maiden opening over, and got to a steady 59 in 10 overs. But then they stepped on the accelerator, and how. The final 10 overs went for 130 runs, with all of Azam, Rizwan and Hafeez punishing the hapless Namibian bowling.
To their credit, Namibia offered stern resistance but there would be no denying Azam’s team the first spot in the semi-finals.
They put the bow on a dominant Super 12 performance by beating Scotland in their final group game, with Azam raising fifty No.4.
They’re now left with the task of becoming the first team to ever win the Men’s T20 World Cup without a loss.
What’s worked for them
In previous tournaments, Pakistan might have been known for their volatility, their unpredictable results taking their fans on an emotional rollercoaster. But in the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2021, they have stood out for their consistency.
“To see consistency in the Pakistan dressing room, that’s the biggest thing for me so far,” said Shoaib Malik. “Everyone’s helping each other. And it’s a team game. When you’re playing a team game, then you need your teammates’ help, you need a lot of support from your management. And I see all of that coming.”
In terms of cricket, they have ticked all the boxes. In the batting, their openers have set the tone well on sometimes challenging batting surfaces, they have run hard between the wickets, the experienced Mohammad Hafeez and Malik have made useful contributions, while Ali has been the best finisher of the tournament.
Their bowlers have hunted in a pack, able to shield any one of them who has a bad day. Their variety has been the envy of many other fans.
They’ve had some luck go their way, in winning three of their four tosses in a tournament where that has proved crucial – but after that they’ve made their own luck.
Concerns going to the knock-out
Pakistan have rarely come under consistent pressure for more than a few overs in the tournament, so their ability to bounce back or quickly move to plan B or C is not fully tested.
They have not been in a situation where the conditions such as pitch or dew have gone against them and while they did well batting first against Namibia, it remains to be seen how they manage in a similar position against more experienced sides.
Rizwan has barely put a foot wrong for Pakistan at the T20 World Cup and he has the average to show for it – 99.50. The opening batter and star keeper has notched two half-centuries so far, with the first coming against India and the second against Namibia.
He’s Pakistan’s leading run-scorer so far, but only just, pipping Azam by one run to this point.
Shaheen Shah Afridi
Pakistan’s star opening bowler has been too hot to handle throughout the tournament, with his opening spell against India (3/31) setting the tone for the brand of cricket his team has played throughout.
Dangerous with the new ball and canny at the death, if he carries on his form then Pakistan are a match for any side.
(Source and courtesy: https://www.t20worldcup.com/)