Pakistan vs England: The series that reinforced the negatives

With the T20 World Cup only a couple of weeks away, a lot has to be done if Pakistan want to be in with a chance of lifting the trophy

Pakistan vs England: The series that reinforced the negatives PHOTO: AFP

The seven-match T20I series between Pakistan and England concluded on Sunday, with the home side losing 4 – 3, although being  3 -2 up after the fifth match. 

With the T20 World Cup only a couple of weeks away, a lot has to be done if Pakistan want to be in with a chance of lifting the trophy.

Pakistan have spent the last month or so preparing for the tournament up ahead, from the Asia Cup, to the recent England series, and an upcoming tri-series with New Zealand and Bangladesh, yet they seem anything but prepared. The opening pair, the intent of batsmen,andthe vulnerable middle order all still hold a question mark over their heads.

Babar Azam and Mohammed Rizwan were the leading run scorers of the series, yet Babar only really got going in two out of the seven matches. Should this opening pair continue? Should one of them drop down to number 3 and anchor the middle-order? And if so, who should open instead?On the subject of middle order, what is actually being done to strengthen it? Is there even a place in the team for the likes of Khushdil Shah? Iftikhar Ahmed? 

So close to a big tournament, yet all these questions are unanswered.

Focusing solely on last T20I, it seemed as though Pakistani batsmen walked out having already thrown in the towel. It was never going to be easy, and chasing 210 is never a walk in the park in a T20, but there was no intent of even getting there. The top three scorers were: Shan Masood (56 off 43), Khushdil Shah (27 off 25), and Iftikhar Ahmed (19 off 16)  – was there even a rationale to any of these innings? On two occasions in this series, England managed to post a total of over 200, yet Pakistani batsmen meandered through the innings and didn’t even get to 150.

Moving forward – to change or not to change? If selectors, decided to go ahead with this squad for the T20 World Cup, they will be attacked with criticism. If the Asia Cup and the England series weren’t enough to give the selectors a sign, what will be? Conversely, if the selectors decide to get rid of Iftikhar and Khushdil, they have to admit that they were wrong to persistently include them without any basis. A catch-22 situation.

Even if changes come into the squad now, who is likely to be selected? A lot of fans have been eyeing up Sharjeel Khan and Shoaib Malik. Sharjeel Khan hasn’t played in an international T20 for well over a year, and with a mere average of 22.55, is this really the change Pakistan needs? Having said that, in the National T20, Sharjeel played an outstanding knock, staying unbeaten on 107 off 62 balls to help chase down 158 against Balochistan. Whilst this was a good knock, the rest of the tournament was quite bleak for him, there were only two other occasions he scored big.

Shoaib Malik seems a good pick on paper, with an average of 31.21 and a strike rate of 125.64, and havingbatted in all positions from 1 to 7 in T20s, he has played a number of great knocks for Pakistan. His performances in leagues are a lot more charming to tell. In the last two PSL season, Shoaib Malik was fourth-highest run scorer in both, averaging 35.40 and 44.55, respectively. But having not played in nearly a year, and his last 5 T20 innings scores being 0, 1, 54*, 19, and 26*, does Pakistan really want to go backwards in their timeline?

A new tradition has seem to have started with Pakistan – going into a tournament after a big knockback. Before the 2019 World Cup, they were battered by England. Before the 2021 T20 World Cup, New Zealand and England both cancelled their tours, and although this is not something that Pakistan had any control over, they were left shocked and stranded. This defeat to England will surely be on their minds as they head to New Zealand, and if they carry on with the same approach, it will be impossible to be successful in the mini-tournament ahead of the World Cup. 

From here on, there are two options. Either Pakistan start playing the likes of Zimbabwe, Scotland and Ireland before a big tournament, so they are able to prepare themselves, giving those that are out of form the chance to find their feet. Or, Pakistan take full advantage of their time beforehand, only pick their best playing XI, and stop including those who have hardly made an impact to the side.

Going back to the Babar-Rizwan conundrum, there is so much reliance on these two, that if they don’t perform, the whole team seems to crumble. It’s as though there is no batting passed these two. And this is something only seen in the Pakistan side. Sure, other teams do have their star players, the players that the dressing team may look towards, but not to the same degree as Pakistan.

The recently concluded England series did not even have Jos Butler or Ben Stokes, yet they gave Pakistan hard time on their own turf. Harry Brook, Ben Duckett and Phil Salt, altogether, had less than ten T20Is to their names, but stepped up to the role without hesitation and did wonders for England. Which makes it questionable why the experience of Pakistani batsmen could not perform on their own soil.

Yet again after a series,the same questions are haunting Pakistan. With the World Cup around the corner, time is running out and Pakistan cannot afford to be making the same mistakes again and again. Even if the squad does remain unchanged for the upcoming World Cup, fans would love to see their team playing with intent, even if they end up on the losing side, because going down fighting is a whole lot better than not even trying.