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Getting the most out of the T20s

April 01, 2012


The recently concluded Faysal Bank Super Eight T20 Cup showcased Pakistan’s top T20 teams competing against each other over eight relatively competitive days. Pakistan newly appointed head coach, Dav Whatmore, and fielding coach, Julien Fountain, were present for most of these games as the both the rookies and out of contention senior pros looked  to catch the attention of the selection committee for the upcoming international fixtures and, of course, the Twenty20 World Championship in Sri Lanka this year.

The tournament saw huge crowds, was meticulously organized and boasted of some high quality cricket. There were batting performances that made one wonder why Pakistan wasn’t ranked among the top three international T20 teams, bowling performances that gave hope and a few, very few instances of exceptional fielding.

Sialkot Stallions were crowned champions. They, by far, are the most superior T20 outfit in Pakistan and their record of seven national T20 cups proves it.  Karachi Dolphins gave a performance very much in line with traits associated with the mammal they’re named after, intelligent and friendly – they batted intelligently and their bowling was nothing but friendly as the Stallions cruised to victory in the final chasing a total of 167.

The Stallions’ victory comes as less of a surprise when you look at the top batsmen and bowlers of the tournament. Raza Hasan of Stallions was the highest wicket taker with 12 wickets – second highest was Shoaib Malik, with 7 wickets. Khalid Latif of Dolphins topped the batting charts with 243 runs at an average of 60.75 while the second highest and third highest run scorers, Imran Nazir and Harris Sohail, were from Stallions. The batsman with the second highest average in the tournament was Shoaib Malik with 50.50. He was also named the best fielder of the tournament.

Ideally, tournaments such as these should be a judge for team selection, keeping in the mind the championship in Sri Lanka this year. It should also provide the selectors, coaches and captain the opportunity to formulate a strategy going forward. That’s how it worked in 2009 when Shahzaib Hasan, Ahmed Shehzad and Mohammad Amir were drafted into the team for the T20 Championship in England on the back of their domestic performance. It may also be the time to think about the possibility of a specialist T20 captain in the mould of Younis Khan who labeled the format ‘just fun cricket.’

In the other words, when picking the T20 side, Pakistan should be should think T20 only.

If Khalid Latif can give you a solid start in the shortest form of the game, pick him. You don’t need to think about what he would be like in the 50-over game or how he is suspect outside his off-stump. That’s not important – why? Because he has played tournaments after tournaments with this technique against the same bowlers that everyone in the domestic circuit has faced. He’s scored runs – if he’s scoring better than most of your batsmen, and that too with a flaw, does it really matter? I don’t think so. Imran Nazir is another guy who has, in the last two months, played a number of match winning knocks – for his Bangladesh Premier League franchise and Stallions. You might call him a tried and tested failure but he is still one of the best locally. Raza Hasan is another left arm spinner who has been talked about for over two years now. He was called up on that ill-fated tour of England in 2010 and we haven’t seen him since. He has been a consistent performer and, by topping the charts this tournament, he’s earned his right for a call-up. Harris Sohail is another power performer in the middle-order who has gone about his business quietly and played very consistently for the Stallions this tournament.

Our fast bowling reserves look a little weak with not many express bowlers on the scene. Mohammad Sami has performed well over the last couple of months but was a little off-color in this tournament. Wahab Riaz also had a quiet tournament after his three wickets in the first game. Mohammad Talha, the next big thing according many local experts, didn’t make a mark. The brightest spot, as far as fast bowling is concerned, was Zia-ul-Haq. He’s a 17 year old left-arm fast bowler who is very highly rated by players and coaches in the domestic circuit – he did prove them right when he played for Lahore Lions in place of Aizaz Cheema. In his initial spell, he was consistently clocked at over 140 kph – that’s serious pace. Understandably, his second game against the Dolphins wasn’t as good but potential was there for everyone to see and get excited by.

One of the biggest points of discussion this tournament has been Shoaib Malik. Does he deserve a comeback to the national side? Is he really that good a leader? How does he inspire Stallions so consistently? In Malik’s defense, he has copped some unnecessary criticism because Misbah-ul-Haq made a request for his inclusion during the England series. If Misbah demands his inclusion, how is Malik to be blamed? Okay, maybe there was some political interference as well – what about all the runs that Malik scored locally to justify his selection? Scrap all of that. On current form performance in this event, he is, by a mile, the most valuable T20 player in Pakistan. If this doesn’t justify a call-up to the T20 side, nothing does. Nothing will. You must pick a player when he’s in form and performing well – that’s when you make the most of his abilities and maximize his utility.

Outside of the boundary rope, the success of this T20 tournament shows that the Pakistani public is still passionate about its cricket and will come out to support anyone. A full-house in Rawalpindi for a final played between teams from Karachi and Sialkot means the people just want to watch their favorite stars play.

While it’s great for the board to hold these tournaments as it generates interest and revenue for it and reenforces PCB's take on security , it is also imperative that performers in these tournaments are given chances they deserve. The main purpose behind these tournaments should always be to pick out talent for the international arena, and with a new administration and experienced coaches at the helm, I am hopeful that the players will be rewarded.

A cricket enthusiast who practices accounting on the side. Based in Ottawa but firmly believes that he’ll lead the PCB one day.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.