Pakistan riding on momentum in Ireland T20 series decider

Published May 14, 2024
Pakistan play against Ireland in a T20I match on May 12 in Dublin. — PCB/X
Pakistan play against Ireland in a T20I match on May 12 in Dublin. — PCB/X

DUBLIN: Intent was on show when Pakistan thrashed Ireland in the second Twenty20 International on Sunday after a stunning loss in the opening fixture of the three-match series.

To seal the series, as well as to inject much-needed momentum to their upcoming T20 World Cup campaign, Pakistan captain Babar Azam and his charges will have to repeat a similar approach in the third and final T20 on Tuesday.

Although Pakistan were poor with the ball in what turned out to be a seven-wicket drubbing of the hosts, they went all out with the bat, chasing down a 194-run target in less than 17 overs.

The pyrotechnics were carried out by Pakistan top-order mainstays Mohammad Rizwan and Fakhar Zaman, who fired all cylinders — registering half-centuries — after the side had lost openers Babar and Saim in the powerplay.

That they still went on the attack despite losing early wickets, showed Pakistan were addressing longstanding issues over their striking rate, which had been subject to criticism given how top sides in the world are considering 200 runs a par score in T20Is.

Fakhar, who smashed 78 off 40 with the help of six fours and as many sixes, said Pakistan were shook by the defeat in the first match.

“We needed a wake-up call, the way we lost the first match,” Fakhar said after the match. “That was on everyone’s mind, and it reflected on how we played this match., everyone was fighting a lot.

“I hope that the way we played this match, we will carry this momentum forward to the World Cup.”

Pakistan may have planned to give more playing time to the likes squad players Usman Khan, Irfan Khan Niazi and Salman Ali Agha in the last T20, but with the series on line, it is unlikely for that to happen.

However, Azam Khan, who, unlike Usman and Irfan, couldn’t feature in Pakistan’s recent series against New Zealand, is being a full run against Ireland and he repaid the team management’s trust with a blistering finishing knock of 30 off 10 balls.

The burly batter smacked the Ireland bowlers for four sixes and a four to take Pakistan over the line with 19 balls to spare. Azam’s show, coming in at number five, must have given the national side some hope of solving its issues in the middle order.

But Rizwan, who gave up his gloves for Azam, set it up for the latter to finish off the game with an unbeaten 75 off 46 that was studded with six fours and four sixes.

“Pressure is always there, especially if your early wickets fall,” noted Fakhar. “But the way our team has a plan that we have to play attacking cricket, so that was in our minds, so that releases your pressure, and Rizwan gets credit for the way he played, because at the start, I wasn’t feeling comfortable, he made it easy for me too.”

Pakistan will have to turn up the ante when it comes to bowling if they are to dominate on Tuesday. Pace spearhead Shaheen Shah Afridi conceded 49 runs in his four overs despite bagging three wickets in the second T20. Mohammad Amir, meanwhile, was hit for 44.

Babar’s decision to bring in spinners Saim Ayub and Imad Wasim in the middle-overs did put Ireland on the back foot, but the Pakistan captain, surprisingly, did not use them fully, raising questions over his tactical acumen once again.

Pakistan are to play England in four T20Is following the end of the Ireland series.

Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2024

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