‘No more experiments’ as Pakistan face England in final T20 World Cup warm-ups

Published May 22, 2024
PAKISTAN captain Babar Azam in action during a practice session at Headingley Cricket Ground on Tuesday.—Reuters
PAKISTAN captain Babar Azam in action during a practice session at Headingley Cricket Ground on Tuesday.—Reuters

LEEDS: With their combination established after weeks of experimentation, Pakistan will treat their four-match Twenty20 International series against England — which starts at Headingley on Wednesday — as their final warm-up ahead of the T20 World Cup.

Starting off their preparations for the T20 showpiece only in April, Pakistan had bolstered their bowling line-up after veterans, all-rounder Imad Wasim and pacer Mohammad Amir, rescinded their respective international retirements.

But problems prevailed in their batting combination, with lack of surety over the number three and number six positions in particular.

Pakistan tried out the likes of Usman Khan and Irfan Khan Niazi, the batters making their debuts in the home series against New Zealand in April.

Against Ireland earlier this month, however, Pakistan placed skipper Babar Azam on number three while Azam Khan played in the number six slot.

Both thrived in their respective positions as the side came back from a stunning loss against Ireland in the first of the three T20Is to outclass the hosts in the next two games.

Promising batter Saim Ayub and mainstay Mohammad Rizwan — who was brilliant against Ireland as well — meanwhile, cemented their spots in the opening positions despite Saim’s struggles up top.

But it seems the series win against Ireland had boosted Babar and the Pakistan team management’s confidence in the current combination and therefore, the team will look to make it a well-oiled one before they open their World Cup campaign against the US in Dallas on June 6.

“Look, as you might have noticed we did not make many experiments in the Ireland series,” Babar said during the pre-match press conference on Tuesday. “We fielded the same line-up we foresee [to utilise] in the World Cup.

“We are planning to go with which combination and we have almost decided what should be our batting and bowling line-up.

“You’ll see our planning in this series but yes, we can make one or so changes according to the conditions or what is required. But, mostly I’ll be batting at one down.”

Pakistan maintained run-rates of more than 10, chasing to win both the second and third T20Is against Ireland, demonstrating renewed approach, boosted a by intent to go after the ball and hit it big.

The approach saw Pakistan chase down targets of 179 and 194 with 18 and 19 balls to spare respectively, suggesting that the side was letting go of their past style of taking the game deep.

With momentum on their back, Babar believed 2022 champions England would be the perfect opponents to play against in the run-in to the T20 World Cup.

“We changed our style of cricket and mindset after losing the first T20I against Ireland,” recalled the 29-year-old. “People want us to hit only fours and sixes but we have to play according to the situation.

“The England series is a golden opportunity for us to win and gain confidence for the T20 World Cup.”

HARIS RETURNS

Despite having the likes of pacers Shaheen Shah Afridi, Naseem Shah and Amir at their disposal against Ireland, Pakistan were slightly expensive against Paul Stirling’s men.

Babar defended his charges, putting his faith in their ability of bouncing back through taking wickets.

“The thing is that sometimes you end up conceding runs, but you should see that those bowlers who leaked runs [against Ireland], also provided us breakthroughs,” he noted. “Yes, we are making some mistakes in patches but we have talked about this in detail and we have experienced bowlers who are the best in the world as well, so they know how to execute plans and bowl accordingly. They also know how to come back after a bad performance.”

Pakistan’s bowling, however, will received a major boost with the return of pacer Haris Rauf — a T20 death over specialist — who was cleared to play following an injury lay-off that lasted nearly three months.

“We have been given clear for Haris [Rauf],” Babar confirmed. “He is available for the series and you all will see him [in action].”

England captain Jos Buttler, meanwhile, wants his team to show they are still a force to be reckoned with at the T20 World Cup after last year’s shambolic 50-over title defence left them with “dented” pride.

Buttler’s men went to the One-day International World Cup in India in October as double world champions but lost six of their nine matches to exit with a whimper.

“The pride was obviously dented and it was a really disappointing competition,” he said. “But life moves on, it’s a chapter in the book and there’s lessons you learn but we’re presented with a new opportunity now, in a different format.

“We go to the West Indies and want to give a better account of ourselves. It’s a real honour to go to another World Cup as defending champions again but it also feels like a new time.”

Two of England’s 15-man squad are unavailable for the opening fixture in Leeds, with Liam Livingstone and Mark Wood both working through knee problems.

Paceman Jofra Archer will make his first England appearance for 14 months but Buttler said it was important not to expect too much from a bowler who has been plagued by injuries.

“We all know what a superstar he has been, but let’s manage those expectations,” he said. “Don’t expect too much, too soon.

“A great success would be him coming through this series with a big smile on his face and his body holding up.”

There are questions over Buttler’s own availability in the coming days, with his wife Louise expecting the couple’s third child.—Agencies

The vastly experienced Moeen Ali stands by to take the reins if required.

“My family comes first. I’ll be at the birth,” Buttler said. “I don’t think they quite tell you when they’re going to come, but we’ve got a plan in place and fingers crossed everything will go well.”

England launch the defence of their T20 World Cup crown on June 4 against Scotland in Barbados.

Squads:

PAKISTAN: Babar Azam (captain), Abrar Ahmed, Azam Khan, Fakhar Zaman, Haris Rauf, Hasan Ali, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imad Wasim, Abbas Afridi, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Rizwan, Irfan Khan Niazi, Naseem Shah, Saim Ayub, Salman Ali Agha, Shadab Khan, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Usman Khan

ENGLAND: Jos Buttler (captain), Moeen Ali, Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Harry Brook, Sam Curran, Ben Duckett, Tom Hartley, Will Jacks, Chris Jordan, Liam Livingstone, Adil Rashid, Phil Salt, Reece Topley, Mark Wood

Published in Dawn, May 22nd, 2024

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