Pakistan ‘figuring things out’ with opener days away – Sport

PAKISTAN skipper Babar Azam walks back to the pavilion after being dismissed during the fourth T20 International against England at The Oval.—AFP

LONDON: With just a week to go before Pakistan take on co-hosts United States in their T20 World Cup opener, the Babar Azam-led side are still in a phase of “figuring things out”.

Their lingering frailties were magnified once more in their seven-wicket drubbing by England in the fourth and final Twenty20 Interna­tional at The Oval on Thursday.

Pakistan, as it seems, have sorted out the issue of low strike-rates in the powerplay, but their apparent cluelessness in the middle overs have raised question marks over their prospects in the upcoming showpiece in the US and the West Indies.

Put into bat, the visitors had posted 59-1 in the first six overs, but once openers Babar and Mohammad Rizwan lost their wickets, Pakistan couldn’t get back into the game.

Between the eighth and the 15th over they could manage just 41 runs at the expense of five wickets, with the likes of Fakhar Zaman, Shadab Khan and Azam Khan having no answers to the likes of England spinners Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid and pacer Mark Wood.

Usman Khan’s impressive 38 off 21 balls and Iftikhar Ahmed’s slow knock of 21 off 18 balls could only take the team to a total of 157, which was easily chased down by the hosts in less than 16 overs.

“As a team, we are collapsing sometimes in bowling and sometimes in batting,” Babar told reporters in the post-match press conference. “We need to figure these things out as soon as possible because the World Cup is near.

“… we are playing the first six overs like other [top] teams, but we are struggling in the middle overs. Players will have to step up now because it has been a while. We need to take responsibility and execute.”

Babar believed the middle-order batters should have tried to rebuild the innings rather than continuing to go after the England bowlers after three quick wickets had fell.

“… we slightly misread the situation,” he noted. “The back-to-back wickets put us under pressure. We need to discuss that if there are back-to-back wickets, how to settle down, and then regain momentum in a couple of overs.

“Here, a par score was around 190, so we needed to achieve that.”

With the target to defend for the Pakistan bowlers way below par on a batting paradise, Azam, with shambolic wicket-keeping made it worse for the team, dropping two catches across the England chase.

The burly batter’s overall show came under criticism, and questions over his fitness were raised, but Babar backed Azam and all his charges ahead of the World Cup. The Pakistan skipper suggested the team will stick to a modern approach towards the format.

“The team has been selected, and all have been chosen on merit,” he said. “When a player does not perform, it seems like the selection was wrong. But when the same player performs well, people ask why he wasn’t included in the team.

“We need to back the players. Azam, Fakhar, Rizwan, and the rest of the players have delivered performances. Sometimes, it’s just not their day, but we have to maintain a positive intent and take chances.”

ENGLAND WELL-PLACED

In contrast to Pakistan, leg-spinner Rashid said England were well-placed ahead of their World Cup defence after thrashing the visitors. England begin their quest to retain the title against Scotland in Barbados on June 4.

But their preparations were hampered when games against Pakistan in Leeds and Cardiff were both washed out without a ball bowled.

Jofra Archer, however, did make his long-awaited return to international cricket between those abandonments when the England fast bowler took two wickets in a 23-run win in the second T20 at Edgbaston.

Archer was able to form an express double-act with Mark Wood at The Oval, the Durham quick reaching a speed of 96 mph and dismissing both Azam and Naseem Shah with searing bouncers in south London.

And Sussex speedster Archer also continued his return from a run of right elbow injuries by taking the key wicket of Babar for 36 as the tourists slumped, Rashid finishing with figures of 2-37.

England captain Jos Buttler (39) and Phil Salt (45) all but put the result beyond doubt with a rapid opening stand of 82 in a match their side eventually won with 27 balls to spare.

“We feel confident and we’re positive,” Rashid said. “It is different conditions and obvious playing in a tournament there is different pressure as well, but we’re in a good place.”

Whether England can keep both Archer and Wood, who each have a long history of injury problems, fit throughout the course of a tournament remains to be seen.

But there was no denying their impact at The Oval, with Rashid saying: “Seeing Jof and Woody, when you watch them bowl it is exciting. Seeing the ball zip off the pitch, the keeper taking it really high and it’s exciting to have two quality, world-class bowlers in our squad.”

Pakistan were outplayed in all facets at The Oval, with paceman Haris Rauf’s 3-38 a rare highlight of an often shoddy display in the field.

Published in Dawn, June 1st, 2024

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