Opener’s strike rate issues and shaky middle-order characterize Pakistan’s failed Asia Cup campaign

By Kshvid News Desk


What looked like a great opportunity for the Pakistan team to face some quality teams in a multi-national tournament ahead of the T20 World Cup ultimately ended in disappointment as they failed to lift the Asia Cup. As predicted prior to the tournament, they comfortably made it into the final where they lost to a rejuvenated Sri Lankan side.

With some of their veterans in the shortest format going out of the game after last year’s T20 World Cup, there have been some chinks developing in their armour, especially in their middle order. Their problems were apparent throughout the tournament, but some great individual performances pulled them through. While they had a good run into the finals despite their deficiencies, it dragged them back just when it mattered the most.


Strike rate issues for the top three

It is an interesting time in Pakistan cricket where the top three have been doing the bulk of the scoring in both white-ball formats. While Babar Azam, Imam-ul Haq and Fakhar Zaman have been doing have been doing it for the in ODI cricket, Babar, Mohammad Rizwan and Fakhar Zaman have been scoring the runs for them in T20I’s. 

In fact, the three of them combined have scored 67.5% of Pakistan’s runs since the T20 World Cup in T20 cricket. The fact that Pakistan are over-reliant on their top three batsmen is an understatement. Babar and Rizwan have been nothing short of incredible in T20I’s after the latter’s promotion to the top of the order. 

In their time together, Babar has scored 1534 runs at an average of 38.35, while Rizwan’s numbers are even more incredible, scoring 2015 runs at 67.16. So when these two get going, which they have more often than not, coupled with a hand from Fakhar, Pakistan normally get over the line. 

But those runs aren’t coming at a decent pace. With the way modern T20 cricket is going, it is quite bizarre that Pakistan still follow the old “keep wickets in hand” template before a final push. Along with scoring 67.5% of the runs, the lesser known stat is that they are facing 72% of the deliveries to score them. 

Unlike other top teams around the world, Pakistan don’t go all in right from the first ball. Babar has been scoring at 6.72 rpo in the powerplay, while Rizwan is slightly ahead at 7.2 since the start of 2020. Fakhar, who is naturally an attacking batsman, is the best of the bunch, scoring at 7.8 rpo. 

The argument is that they do tend to kick on later in the innings, more often than not, which makes up for their slow start. The problem arises when they don’t, which puts a lot of burden on their inexperienced middle-order. The Asia Cup final is a classic example. Rizwan scored 16 off 22 balls in the powerplay and did not manage to kick on later in the game, finishing with 55 off 49 in a 170 chase. 

While Babar hasn’t lived up to expectations in the Asia Cup, Rizwan finished as the top-scorer but struck at 117. The pair have managed to get by in some low-scoring encounters but have been found out in big 2nd innings chases. 


Shaky middle-order 

Since the retirements of veterans Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik, Pakistan haven’t found a solid middle-order batter who could shoulder some of the run scoring burden. In the Asia Cup, Iftikhar Ahmed, Kushdil Shah and Asif Ali have been tried in the middle. 

Iftikhar has scored 105 runs in 6 games at just over a run-a-ball. In the final, his 31-ball 32 effectively killed the chase. Khushdil Shah has fared even worse, scoring just 58 runs at 120. Asif Ali has been playing the role of a finisher and is only sent into bat in the last four overs, a role Dinesh Karthik plays for India. 

Ali has been good in patches, with his major contribution coming in the Super 4 game against India. The inefficiency of the middle-order has even forced the management to make some out-of-the-box calls like sending Mohammad Nawaz at No.4 against India and sending Shadab Khan at No.5 against Afghanistan. Another major factor is their strike rate against spin, something which has been affecting some of the best players around the world. 


The Shaheen Afridi void

Shaheen Afridi is the talisman of this team and in his absence the bowling unit has lacked bite. While Naseem Shah has stepped up, he is still very much a work in progress. He has missed out on the 7-match series against England too and Pakistan will be anxious about his availability for the World Cup. 

If he plays, he will partner with Naseem Shah and one of Haris Rauf and Mohammad Hasnain. Rauf might get the nod with his pace and BBL experience. With Dahani also on the bench, it looks like a solid pace attack. But if Shaheen misses out, they will have to play Hasnain and Rauf in the XI as they did in the Asia Cup, which compromises the quality.


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