4 takeaways from Pakistan’s sluggish run chase against Canada

Pakistan have not been brave at this T20 World Cup.
Published June 12, 2024

Pakistan defeated Canada by seven wickets on Tuesday to register their first win at the T20 World Cup 2024. Here are our four talking points from that game.

Powerplay woes

When Pakistan began their run chase against Canada, they needed to score 107 at 5.35 an over. When the powerplay ended, that run rate had shot up to 5.65.

They say fortune favours the brave. Pakistan have not been brave at this T20 World Cup. It has been a while since they have shown courage with the bat. They did play some audacious shots in phases in Ireland. But, largely, their batting has remained on the conservative end of spectrum.

But, luck favoured Pakistan again on Tuesday. The coin, for the second time on the bounce, fell in Babar Azam’s favour for a match to be played on a fresh wicket of which variable bounce and exaggerated assistance for fast bowlers. Under overcast skies, Babar, as cricketing logic suggested opted to bowl.

It was a brilliant decision. Not only because of the conditions on offer. But, it would also provide Pakistan an opportunity to know how they need to pace their run chase in order to improve their net run rate.

It is going to be either USA or Pakistan who progress to Super Eights from Group-A with India. The first-round elimination, after defeats to USA and India, is very much on the cards for Pakistan. Though they need other results to go in their favour, which are out of their hands, but to make sure that they win and then the margins with which they win are totally in Pakistan’s control.

Pakistan threw an out-of-form Saim Ayub in the playing XI for this competition. Ayub was promoted as an opener at the start of this year in the team’s bid to do away with risk-aversion and add flair at the top of the batting order. The plans never materialised as Ayub never translated his domestic promise into international performances. Pakistan, regardless, continued to back him. The captain and all-format assistant coach made their intentions clear in several media interactions about giving a consistent run to this young left-hander. But, just a match out of this World Cup, they ran out of patience and finally reinstated RizBar at the top.

Once again feeling the heat of criticism on their scoring rates, Pakistan sent in Ayub with Mohammad Rizwan. This time to open the tricky run chase of 107 on a wicket that is the spiciest Ayub would encounter in his international white-ball careers.

Already under pressure because of poor returns throughout the year, Ayub, now had to rescue his team’s World Cup campaign as Pakistan needed to chase 107 in 13.5 overs to go ahead USA on the net run rate.

Ayub tried his shots, but struggled to connect. That, if you say you did not expect, would be a lie. He perished, playing a cross-bat heave, for a 12-ball six.

Rizwan was on nine off 14 when Babar joined him on the second ball of the fifth over. Pakistan were 20 for one. They would have been 15 for one had Kaleem Sana not sprayed one down the leg in the first over.

Their powerplay score would read 28 for one. They hit only one boundary off the bat, which came only in the sixth over. Pakistan have, once again, been circumspect with the bat. But, that is not a luxury they can afford anymore.

Even Canada were quicker off the blocks than Pakistan

It was another great day for cricket in Canada. Every day in this World Cup has been such. Canada are a team of non-professional cricketers who had given up the dream of playing the sport at one point in their lives but are now playing their first-ever T20 World Cup.

They prepared for their maiden T20 World Cup appearance by facing USA in four T20Is in Dallas. They lost all of them. But playing Pakistan brought a worthy experience for their batters. They would face a bunch of feared fast bowlers who have all the weapons to tear away any batting line-up. The pace unit had proven itself just 48 hours before in a high-voltage clash against the mighty India.

Canada came out blazing. Perhaps, they saw that match. They knew that their best bet of putting up a challenging total is to accumulate as much runs as they can when the ball is new. So, they attacked. Aaron Johnson smashed Shaheen Afridi for consecutive fours. It was the first time that first two balls of an innings in a T20 World Cup were hit for boundaries. Naseem Shah and Mohammad Amir would be hit for fours on the first balls of their overs — the second and third of the innings.

Canada finished the powerplay with five boundaries — four better than Pakistan.

Pakistan’s stubbornness

Pakistan have been criticised for their low-scoring rates in the powerplay. That criticism was amplified after shocking losses to USA and India. They could have won both the matches had they shown urgency in the first six.

But Tuesday’s contest has underscored Pakistan’s stubbornness in sticking to their template. Regardless how important attacking batting is for their qualification chances, Pakistan will start to circumspect and leave runs for the end disregarding whether the conditions would be favourable to batters by then or not.

In the three matches that they have played in this T20 World Cup, their scores after the first six overs have been 30 for three, 35 for one, and 28 for one against USA, India, and Canada.

Twice, Rizwan, after opening, has outplayed the powerplay. His scores at the six-over mark have been 16 off 20 and 17 off 23 that are well-below run-a-ball. Azam was on four off 14 when the powerplay concluded against the USA.

A point can be made about the need of settling in on the New York pitch. But, one can expect Babar and Rizwan to keep their strike rates at least over 100 when adjusting to the pitch or conditions considering the years of experience that they bring.

Despite facing 20 and four balls, respectively, by the end of powerplay, Rizwan and Babar showed no urgency in their run accumulation in the next overs. Rizwan would hit a four and Babar would jump down to smash a six in the ninth and 10th overs.

Rather than bossing the run chase, which should have been paced keeping the 13.5 overs cut off in mind, the pair opted for safer options by dealing in ones and twos and by playing the ball with the ground. Most of the times, they were happy to push the ball towards deep fielders rather than hitting in the gaps.

Babar made run-a-ball 33 and Rizwan posted the slowest half century of a Pakistani batter with 53 not out off 53 before Pakistan eventually crossed the line with 15 balls spare to record their first win of the tournament. The two hit five boundaries (two sixes and three fours). Johnson, playing only his 19th match, hit eight alone (four sixes and as many fours).

Situation as it stands

Luck doesn’t knock on your door often. But, it did, twice, on Pakistan’s in three days. Twice they had a chance of overhauling smaller targets in quickly to bolster their Super Eights qualification chances. On both occasions, they decided against them. India made them pay with their quality and experience. Canada, deprived of both, let Pakistan at least have two points.

They now have a positive net run rate. They finally have a ‘W’ next to their name. Their best qualification bet is to bring down the equation to net run rate with USA — who are 0.435 points ahead of them — losing their next two matches and then defeating Ireland on Saturday.

If that happens, they would hope that they don’t regret this torpid run chase.

Header image: Pakistan’s Mohammad Rizwan gestures as Babar Azam walks during the ICC men’s Twenty20 World Cup 2024 group A cricket match between Pakistan and Canada at Nassau County International Cricket Stadium in East Meadow, New York on June 11, 2024. — AFP