A respected member of our forums looks forward to Pakistan's participating in a much anticipcated T20I tri-series in Zimbabwe which also features Australia.
By Mansoor Khan (26th June, 2018)
It is not often the case Pakistan enter a tournament as by far the most settled outfit compared to their competitors. Australia are still reeling from the aftershocks of the ball tampering saga in South Africa that ensnared their two premier batsmen in Steve Smith and David Warner, as well as leading to the demise of coach Darren Lehmann. Zimbabwe are once again suffering from financial challenges and player disputes over pay which has characterised the last fifteen years of turmoil the host nation has suffered.
Both teams have been jolted by demoralising recent defeats with Australia suffering the ignominy of a 50-over series whitewash to an old enemy in England, and Zimbabwe failing to qualify for the 2019 World Cup. Making matters more difficult is that Australia will miss star pacers like Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins; while Brendan Taylor, Sikander Raza, Graeme Cremer, Craig Ervine and Sean Williams will sit out the series for Zimbabwe.
Pakistan however have emerged from a tricky Test assignment away to England with a creditable draw in addition to beating Ireland in their inaugural Test match. Pakistan’s recent T20I form has been strong with a series win over Scotland, a whitewash of West Indies in a rare home series in Karachi albeit against a significantly weakened team, and most impressively becoming the first Asian team to beat New Zealand in a T20 series in their own backyard. This run of results has led to Pakistan reaching the summit of the T20 rankings and in far greater contention for the 2020 World Cup than they were in 2016. However, there remains some critics who believe the ranking is a false position given Pakistan have not faced sides like South Africa and Australia in bilateral T20 series. Victory in this tri-series would help to dispel those doubts with this young Pakistani team unusually having to handle the expectations of being the favourites.
There were no major surprises in the squad other than the umpteenth return of Mohammad Hafeez. Having been reported again (and cleared again) for his bowling action, Hafeez’s return is a contradiction in Mickey Arthur’s strategy in his tenure as coach to inject youth into the Pakistan side. The selectors will argue Hafeez’s offbreaks will prove useful against two sides not renowned for their batting prowess against spin but recalling a player who will turn 40 by the next T20 World Cup and not possessing a strong T20I batting record to begin with presents a missed opportunity to test younger blood against understrength opposition.
Where there is young blood is with the selection of Sahibzada Farhan, a dashing right-handed batsmen who has made a blazing start to his List A career. Hussain Talat and Asif Ali retain their places in the team, though the former will want to improve on his underwhelming showings in Scotland by reducing his dot ball consumption. Pakistan will also want to give Shaheen Shah Afridi a run out. His height and pace has excited many pundits and with Mohammad Amir signalling a desire for a reduced workload – Pakistan needs to gauge the strength of their reserve seamers. Usman Shinwari returns after a stress fracture having made an excellent start to his international career. However, Babar Azam and Imad Wasim remain on the injury list, with the former expected to return for the 50 over leg of the tour.
The dry, slow, almost subcontinental surfaces that Zimbabwe tends to produce will favour Pakistan and their spin attack, but what fans hope is the batting continues to show the consistency that has produced totals of 150+ in all their last seven T20Is. Skipper Sarfraz Ahmed’s return to form against Scotland after a dismal rut is welcome and will be expected to continue to lead from the front with the bat. Senior players like Shoaib Malik and Fakhar Zaman will also add firepower.
For Australia, Billy Stanlake represents the biggest threat with the ball with his searing pace and ability to extract bounce as was shown by a devastating spell against England at Old Trafford. Stanlake along with Kane Richardson and Andrew Tye were the leading wicket-takers in the Trans Tasman T20 tri-series four months ago whilst D’Arcy Short has come to prominence through his displays in the Big Bash.
Zimbabwe enjoy home advantage but without their five senior players including their former captain and leading legspinner Graeme Cremer - it is expected they will finish a distant third. New coach Lalchand Rajput, installed after the ZCB’s hasty axing of the coaching staff after the heartbreak of the World Cup Qualifiers on home soil, is set for a baptism of fire in a tournament that risked cancellation only a few weeks ago with the threat of a players’ strike that has now abated. All cricket fans hope this latest pay dispute will be swiftly resolved as cricket needs as many competitive nations playing at the top level as possible.
Unless a major shock occurs, an Australia vs Pakistan final is the safest bet. What’s not always a safe bet is a Pakistan team showing consistency, but this young team has beaten the odds before.