Pakistan were brushed aside by England in the seventh T20I at Gaddafi Stadium Lahore on Sunday and lost the series 4-3 despite being up 3-2 at one point. Here are our five takeaways from the series.
Nothing learned, nothing unlearned
Cricket assignments closer to the World Cup are strategically placed with the objective of either experimenting, fine-tuning, solidifying or doing a combination of all three. One aspect of this is also to learn new lessons and unlearn old ones.
After seeing Pakistan take on England over a seven match-long series, it is safe to say that few lessons, if any, have been learned.
The doubt on our opening pairing, the question mark on batters’ intent and the concern about the middle order’s fragility all remain.
The England series gave the selectors no clarity, except to perhaps say goodbye to Khushdil Shah (more on him later).
Should Babar and Rizwan keep on opening? Both topped the scoring chart for the series and even upped their strike rates significantly. So what now? Will they retain their spots up top? Or since the middle order is so brittle, should Rizwan be saved for later and Shan Masood be promoted?
Speaking of the middle order, what’s being done to prevent the meltdown of our middle order? What would happen to utility men Iftikhar Ahmed and Mohammad Nawaz? And what of zero utility man Khushdil?
These were the shadowy questions under which the team played the first game on September 20 and which still remain after the conclusion of the series.
Going down fighting > meek surrenders
But before we look ahead, let’s focus on the matter at hand and Sunday’s match.
As is the case with most major Pakistan defeats over the past few years, it wasn’t about the result. It was about the manner in which the result was achieved.
Perhaps, this team is the antithesis of Fiddy’s philosophy and would rather stay poor and breathing. Perhaps, it doesn’t subscribe to the adage of go down fighting. Perhaps, the team is full of characters unsure of their place in the side and who wish to enhance their ESPNcricinfo profiles, which may not be a bad strategy considering the ‘laptop’ selector in charge.
Shan’s 56 off 43, Iftikhar’s 19 off 16 and Khushdil’s 27 off 25 — what exactly was the purpose of all those knocks?
Granted that the chase was difficult and there was little chance of getting anywhere near 210 even on a good day, but the fans of competitive cricket would rather get behind a team chasing and trying as compared to one prolonging the inevitable, which is what Pakistan did.
This was negative cricket and disrespectful to the fans that flocked to the stadium for a neck and neck battle. Much to their disappointment, they found that one team came out all guns blazing and the other team, their own, receded into the depths of its shell like a scared turtle, hoping to avoid the best maneuvers of the enemy before meekly surrendering.
Besides the result, Babar and his men completely duped the fans from an entertainment perspective. Any sporting event is a spectacle where fans pay money and take time out of their lives to be entertained. Did the thousands at Gaddafi get their money’s worth? Likely not.
Early knockouts are still acceptable. Throwing in the towel is not.
To change or not to change?
Such a showing this close to the World Cup only means one thing: changes.
You wouldn’t want to be in the shoes of the ‘laptop’ selector or the ‘philosophical’ coach right now. Babar will remain Babar and will survive but the other two shot callers are becoming dispensable by each passing day.
If you don’t make changes now, you expose yourself to even more criticism. In the post-World Cup post-mortem — there always is one — the first question will be why did you not try something different when there were ominous signs?
On the other hand, if you change things now, you admit that the Khushdil and Iftikhar experiments, being tried for the past few years, have failed.
Also, you replace them with whom exactly? A 40-year-old who is fit but is he fit for the job ahead? Don’t his powers always wane on land of the rising balls?
It’s a lose-lose situation and those looking for headhunting and coaching jobs should start working on their CVs.
Pre-World Cup chaos
There is now a bit of a history regarding Pakistan’s pre-World Cup assignments always proving to be rough and disastrous.
It appears as if this team is incapable of heading into major tournaments fully prepared or without any questions marks.
Prior to the 2019 World Cup, they had suffered a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of England. Before the 2021 World Cup, their preparations were marred by New Zealand ditching them, and now this series defeat to England, which for some reason feels much bigger than it really was (4-3).
There still is another assignment for Pakistan before the upcoming World Cup but only the very naïve would expect them to beat the Black Caps in New Zealand.
Chaos is a constant in Pakistan cricket but perhaps it can be handled better. The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) should look into lining up a series with Zimbabwe before the 2023 World Cup. The Africans are far more gentle and reliable, and that way Iftikhar and Khushdil might also get some runs.
No stars, no problem
Modern day T20 cricket, for the very best of teams, is becoming a no-name affair. It does not matter who is missing, who is available and how much experience the roster has.
England, Australia, India and New Zealand do rely on certain players but not to the extent that the whole system collapses when a certain someone is missing.
The ‘next man up’ philosophy is well and truly ingrained into their systems.
The touring England side did not have the playing services of Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes, Chris Jordan and Liam Livingstone.
No fuss or excuses were made and new heroes were swiftly found. Brook, who had played just four T20Is before this series, was England’s highest scorer. Their second-highest scorer Ben Duckett came to Pakistan with just a single T20I under his belt, and their fourth-highest scorer — Phil Salt — came with four.
Could the same have been expected from Haider Ali or Mohammad Harris? Here, the talent, especially batting talent, is expected to be carefully nurtured and nourished before letting lose.
The world has changed. It just hasn’t for Pakistan.