With T20 World Cup 2022 to be played soon, Pakistan not winning the Asia Cup might be a thing to worry about for them. The tournament has exposed their weak links in the batting unit and they should look to find a solution to them as soon as possible.
Asia Cup 2022 was a story of underdogs surprising everyone with their display of impeccable determination and producing quality cricket under pressure situations. The India-Pakistan final was expected and Pakistan fulfilled the expectations. However, India failed to do so and Sri Lanka ran through all the teams in the tournament after their defeat against Afghanistan and booked a berth in the final. It might be a superb thing for Pakistan players and team management that they reached the final. But, imperfections are often masked by glories, and the final of the tournament exposed the flaws of the team to some extent. They were exposed earlier too but the results went in favour of Pakistan and that hid the cracks in the team nicely. With the T20 World Cup just a few days, Pakistan cannot be satisfied with being finalists in the Asia Cup but they need to address the issues the tournament has highlighted.
When Ramiz Raza snatched away mike from the hands of a reporter in a recent press conference after Asia Cup his frustration was understandable. In spite of being favourites, they were beaten by Sri Lanka in the final and the team’s batting issues have been on display. Pakistan’s batting unit did well against a much weaker Hong Kong side and against India in conditions helpful for the chase. Apart from these two matches, their highest score was 147. A combination of slow strike rate and batters not being able to handle spin in middle overs drowned their ship. Pakistan managed just two wins from their six games in the tournament and one of them came against Hong Kong which is a much weaker side. Pakistan being a finalist in the tournament might appear to be a rosy picture but there is much to ponder about for team management.
First of all, Pakistan’s overreliance on Mohammed Rizwan and Babar Azam to score decent totals is a worrying sign. Without both of them, the current batting unit looks to be a very average side. According to an article in ESPNcricinfo, both of them have contributed 60% of Pakistan's runs in all T20Is since last year’s World Cup.
Rizwan was the highest run-getter with 281 runs from six innings at 56.20 but his strike rate was only 117.57 in Asia Cup and that might be an issue to address for the team before the start of the T20 World Cup in Australia. His strike rate was the lowest among the batters who have played a minimum of 4 innings in the tournament. Babar Azam on the other end was out of touch clearly and so the team’s batting performed below par except for matches against Hong Kong and India. Azam’s form is the most crucial factor for the team as he has the technique to stay long at the crease and shots to steer the run rate. The youngster is the nucleus of Pakistan’s batting unit and without his talent, on display, Pakistan’s World Cup hopes might be brushed aside ruthlessly.
Coming to the middle order, they just looked lost against quality spinners and that hampered the run rate in Asia Cup. Rizwan was already playing with a poor strike rate from the other end and middle-order batters were not able to take chances against spinners which culminated in a continuous fall of wickets. In the match against Afghanistan, the duo of Rashid Khan and Mujjeb-ur-Rehman were an unsolvable puzzle for Pakistan. Rashid picked two wickets conceding 25 runs while Mujjeb allowed opposition batters to score just 12 runs from his four overs. A small target of 130 should have been chased much earlier but courtesy of the middle order’s struggle the game was stretched to the last over and Pakistan also lost nine wickets in the process.
In the super four games against Sri Lanka, opposition spinners combined together to take six wickets, and Pakistan were bundled out on 121. The run rate was the worry in this match also while batting and in urgent need of boosting the score at a quick pace, they lost the wickets. In the final also they were all-out on 147 and Wanindu Hasaranga’s spin troubled them once again. Pakistan's middle order's woes are highlighted by the fact that the second-highest run-getter for the team was Iftikhar Ahmed who scored just 105 runs from five innings at 26.25. The struggle against spin is also another issue to address. Middle-order batters Fakhar Zaman, Iftikhar Ahmed, and Khushdil Shah all have a scoring rate below 100 in Asia Cup against spinners.
The team can break the opening pair of Mohammed Rizwan and Babar Azam to have anchors at different points of time and go for aggressive stroke-making from another end. Someone like Fakhar Zaman can open the innings but Pakistan have named him in standbys. However, opting for an aggressive opener can be the solution for their scoring rate issues in the powerplay. Shadab Khan handles spin very well and so he can be promoted to take them for cleaners, Shadab averages over 28 from 19 T20 innings and nearly a strike rate of 160 at number four and so the team should promote him in their national set-up as well.
Batting is the only loose end for Pakistan at moment and the return of Shaheen Afridi to the squad might bolster their winning chances with bowling. They have talented pacers like Haris Rauf, Mohammad Hasnain, Mohammad Wasim, and Naseem Shah in their ranks. The pace attack is capable of troubling a world-class batting unit but their batters will have to take a bigger responsibility to put across a winning performance in the tournament. Pakistan would be looking forward to winning their second Trophy and the performance by their batting unit will determine the success.