KARACHI: The celebrations surrounding England’s return to Pakistan after 17 years were deflated when the hosts fell to a six-wicket loss in the opening game of the seven-match Twenty20 International series on Tuesday.
Babar Azam’s men will now try to give some cheer to a Karachi crowd that turned up in numbers when they go for a series-levelling victory at the National Stadium on Thursday.
England’s victory raised fresh questions over the vulnerability of Pakistan’s middle-order as it caved in despite getting a blistering start from the openers and Babar was brutal in his assessment of what his side needed to do going ahead in the series which serves as a warm-up for next month’s T20 World Cup.
“Our batters need to step up,” Babar said after the loss. “The way we played the first Powerplay was great. After 10 overs, there was a swing of momentum, which you have to credit England for. We didn’t have enough big partnerships.”
After Babar’s dismissal halfway through the 10th over, when the hosts were flying at 85-1, Pakistan could only add 72 more runs and England chased the 158-run target with four balls to spare.
While the visitors were boosted by Harry Brook’s 25-ball 42 over the line after the right-hander came in to bat at number five, Pakistan’s best middle-order performance was a 17-ball 28 by Iftikhar Ahmed.
At three and four, Haider Ali — who was playing his first T20I after December — and debutant Shan Masood, contributed a total of 18 runs in 20 balls.
Babar’s fellow opener and vice-captain Mohammad Rizwan, who top-scored for Pakistan with a 46-ball 68 in the first game, admitted Pakistan were a work in progress and are in the process of identifying their best combination ahead of the World Cup.
“There are some changes being made and we are in a process of creating a combination [in the batting line-up] and in such circumstances, few mistakes are inevitable,” Rizwan told reporters in the post-match press conference.
“I think it’s not fair to nitpick at this time, we are trying to find solutions ahead of the World Cup.
Rizwan, while shrugging off criticism aimed at Pakistan’s middle-order, said it was himself and Babar’s consistent form as partners, that was depriving others batters from enough time to other batters on the crease.
“It is true that we are facing a few difficulties nowadays but it has to be noted that me and Babar are getting more time on the crease and the middle-order hasn’t really got the chance to shine,” said the wicket-keeper. “But I do believe that we need to work on improving the strike-rate.”
Rizwan believed the middle-order had been brought under fire unfairly after a couple of disappointing performances in the recently-concluded Asia Cup. The 30-year-old said the team management’s belief in it was still intact.
“The middle-order failed in just two matches in the Asia Cup, which is giving a false impression that it is struggling,” said Rizwan.
“I’m sure and we believe it will show up when there is a requirement.”
KARACHI IMPRESSES HALES
The National Stadium is expected to be filled up in capacity once again for the second T20 as well and Pakistan will need it to act at their 12th man. The spectators were electric with their chants for the Pakistan players in the first game but were equally appreciative of England’s show.
It was something that England opener Alex Hales — whose 40-ball 53 helped England take lead in the series — was impressed by as he made his international comeback after three years.
It, however, wasn’t the first time the right-hander played in the metropolis. Hales has featured 15 times at the venue while playing for Pakistan Super League sides Karachi Kings and Islamabad United.
“I’ve played in front of full-houses in Karachi, it is something different, it’s one of the best atmospheres in world cricket,” Hales told reporters after the match.
“I heard some of the guys Luke Wood say [that] he was stood at midwicket at the start of the game and couldn’t believe the noise and the atmosphere.
“Karachi put on a show tonight.”
Hales said making a comeback after being dropped out of the international side and ending up winning on return was something that he could only dream of.
“Three years felt like forever but to get out here today and score 50 for the winning team if the stuff dreams are made of,” said the 33-year-old.
Published in Dawn, September 22nd, 2022