EVEN Nostradamus would not have prophesied that Pakistan would sneak into the semi-finals. It looked next to impossible. Simply because there were heaps of ifs and buts involved. But then he would certainly have felt thunderstruck like tens of millions of Pakistanis when the Dutch ousted mighty-looking South Africa in Adelaide.
The reputed French seer of the 16th century perhaps could not also have predicted that a vibrant-looking Mohammad Rizwan, who before the ongoing showpiece in Australia was world’s top batter in the game’s shortest format, would slump in the T20 showpiece, and be exuberantly overtaken — though just twice for now — by a budding Mohammad Haris.
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How in the world could any connoisseur dare foresee that Iftikhar Ahmed — with a disastrous lead-up to the T20 World Cup — would click in crucial games of the global event while Babar Azam would miserably flop?
Accept it or not, this is how the world goes, and express-cum-powerful T20 cricket is no exception. Future, which for every soul on the surface of this earth can never be accurately foreseen, brings with it newer, stronger and unfamiliar challenges of various degrees. To tackle them and thrive requires wisdom and grit. Not many have it. No wonder, very few defy the trials to reach the summit.
Babar and his men got the reprieve of their lives last Sunday and now if they want to make use of it to achieve ultimate glory in Melbourne on Nov 13, they must rise to the challenge which touches its peak in the knockout global contests.
The captain’s role is paramount in this regard. Babar is in the hot seat.
The title victory Down Under will adorn his career while a loss — in the semi-final or the all-important decider — will obscure it.
Therefore, Babar, badly struggling with the bat (with scanty scores of 0, 4, 4, 6 and 25) in the ongoing World Cup, will have to lead from the front, both as batter and skipper.
Former Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi wants Babar to promote in-form Haris as opener and drop himself to number three.
“Babar Azam needs to listen to suggestions,” Afridi, himself a strong hitter, told a private TV channel. “We need to use Mohammad Haris with fielding restrictions. Babar should drop to number three.”
Adam Gilchrist, the former Australian wicket-keeper/batter, thinks otherwise.
“I think he [Babar] is an opening batter, his record is excellent. He’s having a challenging time but I think he’s a good enough player to come out on top, he is a wonderful player,” Gilchrist was quoted as saying by a website.
Given Babar is undergoing a lean patch, the right-handed batting maestro has to make a call, and one strongly hopes the skipper will keep the team’s interest at the top while taking a firm decision on this.
Babar and Rizwan as openers were piling up runs very much consistently until the T20 World Cup began. While both failed, middle and late order, with a never-say-die attitude — combined to steer the team to the semis, of course coupled with a significant element of luck.
In Twenty20 cricket, attitude matters a lot, and at times, it overtakes aptitude. Haris’ 11-ball 28 against South Africa and 18-ball 31 against Bangladesh explicitly displayed this at crucial moments for Pakistan in this World Cup.
On how Babar and his brigade maybe feeling when out of nowhere they have reached a World Cup semi-final, former Pakistan cricketer Moin-ul-Atiq thinks they will have an edge over New Zealand.
“This Pakistan team [earlier] had no chance of progressing into the semis. But now as Babar’s team have reached the last-four, they will play without any stress because in the first place they had almost no chance. In my opinion, New Zealand will be under pressure,” Moin, who is also a psychologist and motivational speaker, told Dawn on Monday.
According to Moin, there should be a change in Babar-Rizwan opening pair suggesting a compact Shan Masood can replace either of the two.
Though the Babar-Rizwan pair finally clicked in the World Cup giving Pakistan a 57-run start against Bangladesh while chasing a modest 128, they consumed 10.3 overs which does not auger well for the greenshirts who will be playing a potentially explosive semi-final in Sydney. To address this weak area, the mindset with which Haris, or for that matter Iftikhar, batted in high-pressure World Cup games, must be utilised by the team.
On several occasions recently, when Pakistan introduced a change in the batting order the move worked for them. Other than Haris, the likes of Mohammad Nawaz and Shadab Khan proved they have the mettle to outdo the opposition with a mix of flair and technique in the toughest of conditions.
Semi-final contests and beyond this stage are games of highest importance. Babar along with the entire coaching staff needs to comprehensively review the batting order to ensure Pakistan up the ante when it matters the most.
Published in Dawn, November 8th, 2022