• 04 May - 10 May, 2024
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Sports

New Zealand's win over Pakistan in the third T20I has raised familiar questions around Pakistan's approach to T20 cricket, with Babar Azam defending Pakistan's batting performance and rejecting suggestion that a middle-overs slowdown played a part in his side's defeat. This, even as Shadab Khan stressed that T20s needed "impactful innings" – something Pakistan lacked on the day.

Pakistan posted 178 on what Babar acknowledged at the toss was an excellent pitch for batting, but New Zealand demonstrated what was possible on such a surface, cantering to a seven-wicket win with 10 balls to spare thanks to an unbeaten 87 off 42 balls from Mark Chapman.

Mindset Going Into The World Cup

"We did well with the bat," Babar said at the post-match presentation. "I don't think it [the slowdown] made much of a difference because we had caught up in the end. You can say we were ten runs short. Unfortunately, we had a bit of a setback with [Mohammad] Rizwan's injury because it wasn't easy for new batters. But Shadab recovered well and had an outstanding partnership with Irfan [Khan]. In Pindi, 180-190 is a par score."

The passage of play in question came immediately after the powerplay, not for the first time. While Saim Ayub got Pakistan off to a fast start with a 22-ball 32, he was dismissed just after the powerplay, which ended with Pakistan scoring 54. That brought Babar and Rizwan together, a pair whose consistency in accumulating runs has never been in question, even if the intent has.

Pakistan managed just 51 runs in the next seven overs as New Zealand applied the brakes. Collectively, Babar and Rizwan scored 59 runs in 50 balls. Babar was dismissed in the 11th over. Rizwan retired hurt with a hamstring injury in the 13th. Shadab and Irfan's fireworks helped Pakistan score 75 in the last seven as they got close to the score Babar said Pakistan were originally targeting.

However, when the Rawalpindi pitch has been at its best of late, 180-190 hasn't truly been a par score. The six completed T20Is at the venue over the years (all since 2020) have all been won by the chasing side, including last year when Pakistan posted 193, only for Chapman, last night's hero too, to thwart them with an unbeaten 57-ball 104. And in the PSL, of the ten times the side batting first has won in Rawalpindi, only twice did they post a lower score than Pakistan's 178 last night.

Pakistan head coach Azhar Mahmood appeared to acknowledge this in a more direct way than his captain. "We were 15 to 20 runs short," he said. "We started very well, our score in the first six overs was 54, which is very good. In the end, Shadab's innings was excellent. In the middle period, we were slow. Between overs seven to ten, and then 11 to 15, the ball was gripping and we slowed down. “These are the things we have to learn to improve. But you have to pay credit to the way Chapman played. In T20 cricket, if one man stands up, he can take the game away from you.”

Shadab Eyes Quickfire Runs

It was Shadab's 41 off 20 that took Pakistan to their eventual total after he came in to bat at six. He has made the upper-middle order his own with Islamabad United, but said he was happy to be moved around as and when required. Most significantly, though, the vice-captain looked to draw a distinction between a big innings and a consequential one.

"I have played one-down and two-down in the PSL and that's where I think I am most comfortable. But I'm also fine with being used as a floater," he said. "If I get a chance, the planning will be the same – I'm the sort of player who will look to make quick runs.

"Sometimes, you need impactful innings, especially in T20 cricket nowadays. Making runs consistently in T20 cricket isn't difficult, but playing impactful innings is difficult."

New Zealand Takes Unassailable Lead

Four days after failing to defend 178 in Rawalpindi, Pakistan failed to chase down the same target in Lahore on Thursday. A disciplined performance from New Zealand's bowling attack, particularly the pace duo of Will O'Rourke and Ben Sears, saw them edge Pakistan by four runs and take a 2-1 lead in the series.

In pursuit of a target of 179, Pakistan lost early wickets, slumping to 46 for 3 before the powerplay was over. Only a spirited performance by New Zealand's old foe Fakhar Zaman kept the game alive for Pakistan. Fakhar marked his return to the side with a 45-ball 61, lashing three sixes along the way, but when an off-colour Iftikhar Ahmed and he fell in consecutive overs, Pakistan's fate was sealed.

Pakistan kept the game alive till the very last ball, though, thanks to Imad Wasim. A cagey final over from Jimmy Neesham, in which he had to defend 17, ended with Pakistan needing six of the final ball, and a scythed blow behind point was not enough to pull off the heist.

Earlier, Pakistan had had put New Zealand in, making five changes to the side as Mohammad Amir, Imad and Zaman Khan all returned. But it was New Zealand who landed the telling early blows as Tim Robinson and Tom Blundell put the bowlers to the sword in the powerplay, racing to 56 in the first five overs.

The dismissal of Blundell saw Pakistan rein New Zealand in somewhat, but Robinson's explosive knock - he smashed 51 off 36 before Abbas Afridi removed him - put New Zealand in a commanding position at the halfway mark.

New Zealand did lose their way at the death as Imad and Amir did well, but the efficiency of their bowlers confirmed that they had put up just about enough to keep Pakistan at bay.

Abbas Afridi Justifies His Place

Pakistan rung in the changes in the fast-bowling department, with Shaheen Shah Afridi and Naseem Shah both missing out. In came Amir, but it was Abbas who stood out, bowling some of the toughest overs and coming away with both credit and wickets. After a first over where New Zealand targeted him in the powerplay, he returned and provided an immediate much-needed breakthrough as the explosive Robinson miscued him into the night sky.

For some reason not called upon for his full quota, Abbas’ final over – the penultimate one of the innings – was the pick of the bunch. A mix of cutters, hard lengths and perfect yorkers saw Abbas take two and concede just five as New Zealand continued to be dragged back. Abbas’ figures of 3 for 20 possibly left Babar Azam wondering why he hadn’t used him for the full four.

Shadab Khan A Livewire On Field

It’s perhaps on-brand for Shadab Khan’s reputation as an all-rounder that despite not bowling a single delivery for the first time in a completed T20I innings, he was responsible for the most impressive Pakistan contribution in the field. It took place in the 14th over of the New Zealand innings, when Mark Chapman – Pakistan’s bete noire on tours like these – slapped one over the head of wide mid-off. Or so he thought. Shadab moved to his left and flung himself into the air with feline-like lethality. The speed of the ball knocked his right hand off as he held on to it with his left. It took a disbelieving crowd a few moments to register what had happened, but it hampered New Zealand's death-overs push.

Young Kiwis Hold Their Own

There’s a Super Smash feel to the New Zealand squad in Pakistan, and that was particularly true of the seam-bowling duo of Sears and O’Rourke. Sears had played ten T20Is before this tour while O’Rourke was yet to make his debut, but the pair was instrumental in halting Pakistan’s early charge from the get-go. While Pakistan targeted Jacob Duffy, O’Rourke struck in his first over, drawing Babar into a cover drive, and the extra bounce saw him paddle it to cover-point on the full.

He also dismissed the other opener, Saim Ayub, who was put down in the first over. Sears kept New Zealand plugging away as he prised out Usman Khan to leave Pakistan in trouble. The pair’s ability to keep the runs quiet at the same time allowed Michael Bracewell to turn to them whenever pressure needed to be applied, a motif that continued right through the innings. The pair was brought later, and gave their captain the wickets of Iftikhar and Fakhar to kill the game off, combining for figures of 8-0-54-5.

About the writer

Shahzeb Ali Rizvi is a sports aficionado with a keen eye for the intricacies of cricket and football. He can be reached at [email protected]