33rd National Games 2019
- 30 Nov - 06 Dec, 2019
Pakistan’s win in the Tri Nations Series will go down as one of their truly hard fought victories, yes; but it is more about the character and mental strength that Pakistan showed that stands out. They had never chased down successfully a target of 184 and beyond. For that matter it had look to be ending more at 200 plus when the Aussie openers were batting. But the resilience and counter attack that Pakistan showed in the end game of the Australian innings where they managed six wickets for 40 odd runs in the last five overs, was the turning point in the game.
Not that there hadn’t been an air of expectation that Pakistan would win the final. The finals are all about who has the momentum coming into that day. Pakistan had it after winning their last two games leading up to the big day; and one of those wins was against the Australians themselves after the men from downunder had come out on top emphatically in the opening encounter between the two teams.
That crosses out the cynics who will say that this was an Australian ‘B’ side considering there was no Smith, Warner, Bancroft, the Marsh brothers and Usman Khawaja in the batting and none from Starc, Hazelwood, Cummins and Lyon in the bowling. Even their ODI skipper Tim Payne, was not in the squad. Well, take away Warner and this was the same squad that won the Tri series involving England and New Zealand held earlier this year in New Zealand.
Also, this very team had gobsmacked the same Pakistanis in the first match between the two when Stanlake drowned the Pakistan top order and returned Australia’s most economical figures in T20I history. They then went on to post a threatening opening stand yet again in the final and ultimately posted 183, an imposing target for any T20 game at any level.
Credit therefore must go whole sole to the Pakistanis for winning the trophy. It was pure confidence and as I said earlier, character and mental strength. Fakhar Zaman, the man of the match and the series had said prior to the game that he wanted the Aussies to bring it on. Indeed he has been one of the harbingers of change in the attitude of the Pakistanis; the other of course is Sarfraz Ahmed who vocally leads a young side against the best out there.
One of the successes has been Asif Ali. We had seen his composure under stress in the PSL final in Karachi earlier this year. This time he showed that like Shoaib Malik he is good at finishing the game. The final was not necessarily Pakistan’s once Fakhar got out but Asif showed that he has the temperament. Agreed that at No. 6 he naturally bats in the lower half of the innings giving him more opportunity to stay unbeaten. But then the opposition is bringing back their best bowlers. His topping of the batting averages at 117 with a strike rate of 167.14 is therefore a genuine achievement.
Regarding Shoaib Malik, he goes from strength to strength in such circumstances. He is the master finisher and clearly dependable when the chips are down. It is a marked contrast to the earlier period of his return to the shorter format where he was just riding on his reputation. He finished second in the averages with 66.00 and a strike rate of 134.69. It is unfortunate that he is not an effective bowler anymore and in fact bowls rarely now.
Of course the start of Pakistan’s batting was Fakhar Zaman. One wonders if he is the new Saeed Anwar; in fact the more aggressive one. He does not have the same level of fluency and elegance of movement and footwork – he appears clumsy at times even when hitting a six – but he has the same impact if not more.
His most significant aspect is that he has emerged as a man for the big occasion. He scored a hundred in the Champions trophy final and now a whirlwind 91 in the final here. He piled up 278 runs in 5 innings at an average of 55.60 and a strike rate of 157.06 is impressive by any standards. Yes, he felt the pitches were better for batting than when he last toured here with the Pakistan ‘A’ side but even then it takes a lot to hit balls on the up, coming from tall fast bowlers from Australia.
Yet Pakistan has their disappointments and worries. The selectors and team management still searches for a reliable partner for Fakhar. With Ahmed Shahzad under a cloud again and even when available batting with less confidence, Mickey has been experimenting but failing badly. But he is partly to blame. You can’t send someone like Haris Sohail up to open. Perhaps the thinking was that if he can bat at No.3 in Tests he can bat as opener in T20s which really borders on the ridiculous. When Hafeez failed – as was expected considering he was coming back in after quite a gap – Mickey and Sarfraz should have tried Sahibzada Farhan rather than throwing him in the deep end by playing him in a final.
On the bowling front there were no standouts and everyone chipped in. But a case has to be made for Amir. Yes he was instrumental in Pakistan restricting Australia to under 200 in the final but other than that he looked tired and disinterested. He is desperate for a rest which the team management refuses to give him. Along with Shadab he took most wickets (5) but Usman Shinwari finished on top of him with a lower economy rate and not too bad an average of 22.66 for his 3 wickets in 3 games. Pleasing also was the pace and bounce of Shaheen Afridi when he was played. Overall, the selectors and team management have developed an effective combination with lots of bowling options and batting deep. With all-rounders like Faheem Ashraf and Shadab Khan they pack a punch at the bottom or at least can look forward to completing their 20 overs.
Now comes the bilateral ODI series. It is to be seen if Brendon Taylor, Cremer, Sikander Raza, Sean Ervine and Williams return to the squad or stay away like they did in the T20 series because of a pay dispute. If they do then Pakistan have a fantastic chance of making a clean sweep of the ODI series as they did in the two games they played against the hosts.
Pakistan will have Imam-ul-Haq in the team to partner Fakhar and also Yasir Shah returns after being unfit for the tour of Ireland, England and Scotland. It will be interesting to see if Pakistan play him or Shadab or maybe both in the ODI series. What they do will spell out how much Shadab has gained the confidence of the coach and whether the team strategy is to play Shadab in T20 and Yasir for the longer format. •