TEAM Pakistan have a number of reasons to rejoice after their 3-1 T20 series win over hosts South Africa on Friday. First, the victory was a rare away tour success, and secondly, it came on the heels of their emphatic ODI series win. What complemented their success was Babar Azam’s remarkable debut as skipper, which had been delayed owing to his thumb injury in New Zealand. The prolific right-hander led from the front with his brilliant batting throughout the South Africa tour. It was a performance that catapulted him to number one spot in the ICC ODI rankings — an honour that had eluded Pakistan for 17 long years. Up until last December, Pakistan’s limited-over performances oscillated from ordinary to forgettable as they tasted successive defeats against England and New Zealand. The batting looked in disarray, the bowling appeared toothless and the fielding failed to measure up. The critics were unsparing and rightly so. They expressed serious doubts about Pakistan standing any chance of raising a competitive squad for this year’s T20 World Cup set to be held in India in October.

At the start of the South Africa series, it seemed there was little to separate the two sides. But as the tour continued, the visitors’ superiority became obvious and the results are there for everyone to see. True, the hosts lost some of their best players to the Indian Premier League after the first two ODIs, but the Proteas young guns have proved to be no pushover either and Pakistan did well to tame them. Having said that, the Green Shirts’ customary unpredictability was on display in the few games they lost and there remain serious questions regarding the middle order and the chequered performance of the fast bowlers. In the final analysis, this young team has shown signs of improvement but still has some way to go before it can play sharp, consistent cricket. The team’s coaches Misbah-ul-Haq, Waqar Younis and Younus Khan hold the key to achieving that goal.

Published in Dawn, April 19th, 2021

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