RAWALPINDI: Pakistan’s batting order is far from settled with the T20 World Cup less than two months away and according to their head coach Azhar Mahmood, more shuffling is expected.

Azhar, appointed in the role solely for the ongoing five-match Twenty20 International series against New Zealand, realised this when Pakistan failed to score big enough to avoid defeat in the third T20 on Sunday against the BlackCaps, who rode on a blistering knock by Mark Chapman to level the series 1-1.

The hosts managed 178 runs after winning the toss and opting to bat first, and the total was chased with eight balls and seven wickets to spare by New Zealand, thanks to Chapman’s 87 off 42.

While the left-hander’s onslaught was boosted by a dropped catch when he was playing at 16, he still could have had a more challenging target to pursue had Pakistan scored at a better pace in the middle overs.

After skipper Babar Azam and his opening partner Saim Ayub had given Pakistan a flying start in the powerplay, the scoring rate slowed down with Mohammad Rizwan and Usman Khan at the crease before Shadab Khan and Irfan Khan somewhat pulled Pakistan out of danger.

Pakistan may go into the fourth T20, which is to be held in Lahore on Thursday, with a different batting line-up as they try to find the right combination ahead of the World Cup, scheduled for June in the United States and the West Indies.

“I have said this before as well that your top three is fixed but after that we have to look at matchups and decide accordingly,” Azhar said in the post-match press conference.

“In this match [third T20I] we wanted Rizwan to get some time in the middle since the first match was washed out due to rain.

“But going forward we will be flexible as far as the batting positions are concerned since one number is not set for a particular player,”

Azhar believed Rizwan’s strike rate and Usman’s struggles to shine in an unfamiliar batting position at number four kept Pakistan from posting a challenging total before the pitch started helping the New Zealand bowlers.

“We were 15 to 20 runs short based on the par score,” said the former all-rounder. “We started quite well in the first six overs and scored around 54 runs. Shadab played very well towards the end. But I think we lost momentum in the middle overs as the ball was gripping a bit.”

Azhar, however, gave full credit to Chapman for his absolute battering of the Pakistan bowlers.

“These are the things we have to learn to improve,” he noted. “But you have to pay credit to the way Chapman played. In T20 cricket, if one man stands up, he can take the game away from you.”

Published in Dawn, April 23nd, 2024

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