Pakistan T20 World Cup Squad: Analysing batting selections

Is Pakistan's T20 World Cup batting line-up too reliant on Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan?

Pakistan T20 World Cup Squad: Analysing batting selections PHOTO COURTESY: PCB

There is no bigger pride than being able to represent your country on the international stage. Unfortunately, Pakistanis are short of opportunities to turn that into a reality despite having the potential. Sports, however, provides a glimmer of hope. A ray of sunshine. Ever since the downfall of hockey, cricket took over as our unofficial national sport which explains the raging emotions whenever Pakistan manages to spectacularly disappoint; this doesn’t discount the fact that the victories are celebrated with even more vigor and passion across the country.

World Cup is easily the biggest tournament when it comes to cricket and the fans in green are long overdue a celebration. Despite our struggles, every fan is secretly hoping for a miracle which would be a fitting response to the recent turn of events that unfolded with the New Zealand cricket team. Perhaps an anti-Pakistan and a politically fuelled agenda, as some might put it.

However, Pakistan Cricket Board has its work cut out especially after the resignation of both Misbahul Haq and Waqar Younis so close to the event. The decision-making surrounding our cricket has never followed any rhyme or reasons which is why it shouldn’t shock anyone; it is just another inconvenience that we have to brush aside and continue dreaming about a World Cup victory.

However, the chances of that happening seem to have taken a hit following the squad announcement for the mega-event taking place this month. There has been visible outrage against some of the players selected, not only from the fans but also from ex-cricketers. Although changes could still be made to the squad, till October 10, we keep that aside for the time being. Instead, we focus on the selections of all the batters for the upcoming tournament.

Statistics-based selection

Statistics have become a huge part of the sporting world and many organizations have invested heavily in this department. However, it is important to understand that these said statistics are only as good as the context in which they are provided. As it’s famously quoted, “garbage in, garbage out.”

Chief Selector Mohammad Wasim, when announcing the team for the T20 World Cup, sat beside his laptop, ready to justify all the selections. It was evident that the statistics provided were used to force the narrative rather than allowing them to come to a conclusion of their own, which is how it should be.

Some recurring words that echoed during the press conference were strike-rate, aggressive cricket, and selection based on statistics. To make an educated and informed decision, you also have to focus on a) averages alongside the strike rates, b) their ability to perform under pressure, c) whether the batsmen offer the all-important match-winning ability or not.

Over-reliance on Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan

During the selection of the players, Mohammad Wasim focused entirely on players who have the ability to hit the ball out of the ground; that idealistic approach often crumbles in the ground. Although the T20 format remains the shortest one, you still need players who can play the anchor role.

Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan have arguably been the top-two batsmen in T20Is; Rizwan leading most runs scored in 2021 whereas Babar recently posted the record for being the fastest T20I player to reach 7,000 runs. However, looking at the squad, the over-reliance on both the players is quite evident. The squad lacks players who can play the anchor role especially since Babar and Rizwan will both be opening the innings.

Mohammad Hafeez, although has all the experience in the world, has not played a single match in National T20 Cup due to an illness. Reports also claim that he is falling short of fitness as well. Shoaib Maqsood is making a comeback in the team and assigning him the responsibility has the potential to backfire. Lastly, Shadab Khan's performances with the bat have always fallen short which is why you will never realistically rely on him to fulfill that role.

Here is the breakdown of the averages and strike rates on the international stage and then the domestic tournaments as well for all those who have been selected for the World Cup.

Although any combination along with Babar and Rizwan has the ability to win you a game. However, that is not the approach you need to adopt when you are aiming to win a tournament. You need ample backup options, you need to have plans to counter when wickets fall early, the change in batting line-up is another possibility; all the things which are very restricted with the current choices.

Top-performing Pakistani batsmen in KPL

The flamboyant opener Sharjeel Khan lit the Kashmir Premier League (KPL) on fire with his aggressive batting style. He scored a remarkable 141 which caught everyone’s attention. He topped the charts followed by Zeeshan Ashraf and perhaps an unlikely candidate Shan Masood.

The best performing batsman from the selected players was Shoaib Maqsood, who has done pretty well in all fairness. He remained the highest run-getter in PSL 6 after Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan as well.

Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan both tore the 6th edition of the PSL apart; they were the only two players to cross the 500-runs mark. Since they have been the best batters in the world and not just in Pakistan, we will not be including them.

Note: Players highlighted in green are the ones who have been included in the T20 World Cup 2021 squad

Analysing performances in PSL 6

Sohaib has consistently ranked above the rest of the lot that the PCB selected for the World Cup. He has slowly but surely managed to establish himself as a reliable candidate in the teams that he has played in. Maqsood has scored at an average over 35 with a strike rate of around 154 in 2021. While playing at the top order, he managed 6 fifties in his last 20 T20 innings.

Other prominent options

When we look at other options, the first few that spring to mind are Sharjeel Khan, Iftikhar Ahmed, Haider Ali, and potentially Shoaib Malik as well. All these players have previously featured for Pakistan and can bring a lot of experience to the table as well. The upside to including players with experience is that it relives pressure from our top-performing duo of Babar Azam and Muhammad Rizwan.

Sharjeel Khan has registered strong performances in PSL 6, KPL, and has enjoyed a relatively decent run in the ongoing National T20 Cup; he is also currently the 3rd highest run-scorer in the tournament.

Iftikhar Ahmed remains one of the few players for Pakistan who averages more than 42 and a strike rate of over 130 strike-rate in T20Is. He offers an additional bowling option as well, which can prove vital on the UAE pitches.

The resurgence of Haider Ali, who has also performed well on the international stage as well, in the PSL 6 and National T20 Cup 2021 is a strong indicator that he possesses the ability to hit the ball cleanly but also play the anchor role if required.

Shoaib Malik is perhaps the most experienced T20 campaigner across the globe and Pakistan can make do with him at any stage. Malik also offers an additional spin option with vast experience to back him up despite not having much luck at ICC events throughout his career.

Sarfaraz Ahmed, since being left out of the international stage and replaced by Mohammad Rizwan, has drastically improved his batting. He was arguably one of the most improved batters in the PSL 6 campaign and has popped up with important innings for Sindh to get them out of pressure. He could potentially be a good backup wicketkeeping choice as well.

Fakhar Zaman, who has been kept as a reserve option, can also make a case for himself with his match-winning performances. He possesses the ability to turn the game on its head as we famously saw in the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 final against India.

Focus on finding match winners

Pakistan cricket has lacked the ability to groom match-winners in recent times. Match winners aren’t only those who can maintain 150+ strike rate, match winners score you crucial runs at crucial times. They don’t necessarily even have to be a batsman. For instance, in a series against Pakistan in 2019, South African David Miller won the player of the match after he took four catches and effected two run-outs. He remains only the second player in cricket’s history to win the award without taking a wicket or scoring more than 10 runs in the game.

There is no denying that Pakistan has always had an unorthodox approach towards selection. We can easily criticise it but it has often paid off for the Men in Green; from the selection of Inzamamul Haq in the 1992 World Cup to including Fakhar Zaman for the ICC Champions Trophy. Both players, albeit promising, perhaps hadn’t done enough to justify their selection but one thing they had in common was the ability to be a match-winner. This was something that was identified by the selection committee and it paid off immensely. Inzamam went on to become one of the best cricketers Pakistan has ever produced, whilst Fakhar Zaman remains in contention for the selection of the upcoming T20 World Cup with a solid limited-over record behind him.

In conclusion, irrespective of who is selected, the Pakistan selection committee needs to be very clear on how to utilise the players. Although Babar and Rizwan have been phenomenal, it is a slippery slope to assume that they will continue to carry all the matches to the stage where power hitters can come in and finish off the job. We need to be prepared to carry the innings if our top-order collapses and pick players accordingly who not only provide the threat of hitting balls out the park but also can accelerate the innings at will. Ultimately, cricket is a game that's played in ground and not on paper.