KARACHI: Pakistan batter Khushdil Shah takes part in a training session at the National Stadium on Saturday.—AFP
KARACHI: Pakistan batter Khushdil Shah takes part in a training session at the National Stadium on Saturday.—AFP

KARACHI: An utter show of dominance on one day and sheer cluelessness on the other. Pakistan’s last two Twenty20 International outings have been quite contrasting.

The last saw the side succumbing to a 63-run loss against England, a day after drubbing the visitors by 10 wickets.

The seven-match is 2-1 in England’s favour indeed. However, with five more to go and the unpredictability of the momentum shift, the series is far from over.

While the second T20 magnified Pakistan’s strength; their openers, the third played a reminder of the fragility of the side’s middle-order.

Barring Shan Masood, no one showed up for Pakistan when they were chasing an international record 221-run total here at the National Stadium, the venue which is to host the fourth and last T20 of the series on Sunday.

Karachi’s cricket fans filled the stadium in the first three games, the tickets for the fourth have been sold out. This time, they would be looking for a well-rounded performance from Babar’s men, especially from the middle-order.

It wasn’t only about the show Pakistan put on with the bat in Friday’s game. Getting plundered for 221 runs in 20 overs is unacceptable for a bowling line-up considered to be one of the best in the world.

Pakistan’s best bowling performance of the match came from Mohammad Nawaz, who gave away 34 runs in four overs of left-arm spin.

The fast-bowlers were the hosts’ weakest link; the best economy rate from a Pakistan pacer was Mohammad Hasnain’s nine.

The national side’s head coach Saqlain Mushtaq, while being a bit too defensive about his middle-order batters, did not resist to admit Pakistan’s bowling plans failed in a match which saw England batters Harry Brook and Ben Duckett combining for 139 off 69 and returning to the dugout unbeaten.

“Our bowlers did not bowl according to the plans and we really need to work on it before the next game,” Saqlain conceded.

England on the other hand ensured they were ruthless with the ball as well. The 50-over World Cup champions showed their strength in depth, replacing David Willey and Luke Wood — who fell prey to Pakistan openers Babar and Mohammad Rizwan’s batting masterclass on Thursday — with fit-again Mark Wood and Reece Topley.

Wood’s express pace — the right-armer clocking 156kph — proved too much for Babar, while Topley hunted down Rizwan. Wood also got Pakistan’s number three Haider Ali before Shan and Khushdil Shah collaborated for a damage control effort for the home side.

England haven’t yet tested all-rounder Chris Woakes and uncapped pacer Olly Stone in the series.

“[England captain] Moeen [Ali] just wanted me to be aggressive against Babar and Rizwan and try and unsettle them,” Wood said.

Wood will have a go at both Pakistan openers again on Sunday again and the possibility of Babar and Rizwan’s early return to the pavilion cannot be ruled out. The Pakistan middle-order will have to up its game with anxiety amongst fans rising as next month’s T20 World Cup nears.

Saqlain, however, did not believe the middle-order was an issue and that their disappointing show was down to nothing but a bad day.

“Fans want, you all want, all those who are from Pakistan want us to win,” the head coach said, drawing confusing parallels. “But again, day and night, life and death, it’s all natural. What we have is intent, rest we can only pray.”

It is to be seen if Sunday turns out to be a good day for the likes of Haider, Khushdil and Iftikhar Ahmed.

Published in Dawn, September 25th, 2022

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