T20 World Cup: Can Pakistan make it six 
in a row?

Pakistan need Shaheen Shah Afridi on top of his game in Thursday's semifinal against Australia. (AFP)
Pakistan need Shaheen Shah Afridi on top of his game in Thursday's semifinal against Australia. (AFP)

Skipper Babar Azam seems like a cool customer who will not succumb to the pressure of the occasion

By Sumit Chakraberty

Published: Thu 11 Nov 2021, 12:03 AM

Pakistan are the only team in the 2021 T20 World Cup to win all five games in the Super 12 to qualify for the semifinals. That is both a confidence-booster and a worry for them, because no team has won the T20 World Cup since its inception in 2007 without losing a single game in the tournament. So the Men In Green will have to emulate what their yellow-jerseyed opponents in Thursday’s semifinal did twice — Australia won the 2003 and 2007 ODI World Cups without losing a game.

Pray to Lady Luck

To make it six wins in a row, Pakistan will be praying Lady Luck keeps smiling on them in Dubai. Batting first has been challenging, while dew has eased the chase. Not a single evening game winner in Dubai batted first. Pakistan won the toss in their all-important first game against India and wisely chose to bat second. They lost the toss to Afghanistan, but still got the chance to take the field first because the Afghan captain, Mohammad Nabi, made the blunder of opting to bat. Aussie skipper Aaron Finch will make no such mistake if he wins the toss on Thursday, after getting thrashed by England at this venue.

Buck Dubai trend

Teams have had time to think about how to win an evening game in Dubai even after losing the toss and batting first. Afghanistan almost defended a score of 147, which suggests that a target of over 170 won’t be easy to chase even with the aid of dew. To set that target, however, batsmen may have to forget being brave in the powerplay, and adopt the old school limited overs method of keeping wickets in hand and smashing the last 10-12 overs after the ball loses its bite. Pakistan have been good at doing this, especially skipper Babar Azam who opens with Mohammad Rizwan.

Finch chink

The two teams are well-matched in the left-arm swing of Mitchell Starc and Shaheen Shah Afridi, express pace of Pat Cummins and Haris Rauf, and leg-spin of Adam Zampa and Shadab Khan. Australia have a clear advantage in the third seamer Josh Hazlewood compared to Hasan Ali. On the other hand, Pakistan have a specialist left-arm spinner Imad Wasim, whereas Australia use a mix of Glenn Maxwell’s off-spin and Mitchell Marsh’s medium pace for the fifth bowler’s quota. Wasim’s arm ball may even expose a chink in Aussie opener Finch, who was bowled for 9 while trying to cut West Indies’ left-arm tweaker Akeal Hosein in the last game.

Untested middle order

Pakistan’s middle order batsmen have made telling contributions when required. But the consistency of openers Azam and Rizwan has made few demands on them. At 41, Mohammad Hafeez is one of the oldest players in the tournament, and Shoaib Malik is 39. They haven’t really been tested by genuine fast bowlers on a responsive track. So Pakistan may need at least one of their openers to play a long innings, especially because Fakhar Zaman at one down is yet to strike form. Similarly, the Aussie middle order hasn’t done much so far, although they will be enthused by Marsh’s fifty in the last game against the West Indies.

Big match temperament

Australia didn’t have a great run in limited overs cricket in the lead-up to the tournament. But they have a habit of clicking in World Cups. Pakistan may find it harder as expectations build up in what is their second home, the UAE. But they do have an Aussie batting coach Matthew Hayden who has been in enough World Cup-winning sides to know how to go about it. Skipper Babar Azam also seems like a cool customer who will not succumb to the pressure of the occasion.

Sumit Chakraberty is a writer based in Bengaluru. Write to him at chakraberty@gmail.com

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