New Zealand captain Kane Williamson admitted on Tuesday after losing to Pakistan that Babar Azam’s men are one of the favourites for the tournament. With two wins in as many games, Pakistan look good to top the group, unless something goes drastically wrong.
But before the tournament Pakistan weren’t exactly top billing, especially after the tumult in the board and changes in coaching staff. But things have fallen in place for Pakistan very fast.
TOI takes a look at the reasons behind the rise of the 2009 champions, who failed to make the 2014 and 16 semis…
EXILE TURNS ‘HOME’
Since 2009, when there was an attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore, teams more often than not have refused to tour Pakistan. Even New Zealand pulled out of a tour to Pakistan just days ahead of the T20 World Cup, meaning Pakistan have been forced to make UAE their adopted home.
While it wasn’t an ideal situation, the decade-long experience of playing in Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi has meant that India’s home World Cup has become Pakistan’s home event instead. There is a solid support base for the team in the desert venues and they have an enviable record there for the last five years, winning 13 consecutive games.
REVELLING IN CHAOS
Pakistan always seem to come together as a team when there is an internal problem. In 1992, when they won the 50-over World Cup, the team had numerous ego issues in addition to injuries to players like Waqar Younis. In 2009, the year of their T20 World Cup triumph, they were reeling under the Lahore tragedy. In addition to that, chief selector Abdul Qadir had resigned over Shoaib Akhtar’s removal from the squad.
This time, too, coaches Misbah ul Haq and Waqar Younis resigned just before the World Cup because they believed they would be sacked by new PCB chief Rameez Raja. But Rameez, a respected figure in the international cricket circuit, brought senior heads like Matthew Hayden and Vernon Philander into the support staff and it all seems to have worked in their favour.
BABAR’S TEAM OF CHOICE
It is crucial that a captain gets the team he wants and finally Babar has got his. Three late changes were made in the 15-man squad and one among them — Fakhar Zaman — has played both the games so far. In addition to that, Babar and Mohammed Rizwan, who have started opening together from 2021, have been phenomenal, averaging 67.30 in T20Is. The bowling also has variety with all bases covered and a spearhead like Shaheen Afridi at the top of his game.
EXPERIENCE OF SHOAIB MALIK AND MOHAMMED HAFEEZ
Malik is probably the only player in this T20 World Cup other than Chris Gayle who made his international debut in the 1990s. Malik has kept himself fit, knows the ins and outs of the game and is an immensely under-rated finisher. The right-hander has a tally of 18 unbeaten innings in successful run-chases, which is a world record in T20 cricket. Even against New Zealand, he showed his finishing prowess with 26* off 20 balls, steering the Pakistan ship just when it looked a little tricky.
The fact that Hafeez, whose action has often been under the scanner, is back bowling, has helped Pakistan. It gives the team the additional cushion of an offspinner. Add to that his street-smartness as a batsman and Pakistan look a complete package.
PSL SPREADS ITS WINGS
Pakistan started off as a powerhouse in T20 cricket, playing the first three finals and winning one. But since 2009 the Pakistani players were not allowed in IPL anymore and post 2010, the team’s performance dipped. The sub-continental powerhouse even failed to make the 2014 and 16 semis and it has a lot to do with the fact that the players were not playing a top-quality T20 event in the subcontinent.
But in the last five years, the Pakistan Super League, started in 2015, has slowly become an important event. Barring Indian players, most of the other global superstars feature in it. This generation of Pakistan cricketers have got used to taking the pressure of tight T20 situations on a regular basis and that’s showing in their performances.