Pakistan need to bat more productively in middle overs: Babar – Sport

LAHORE: While acknowledging that his team need to lift their game overall ahead of this year’s T20 World Cup, Pakistan captain Babar Azam has said that the batsmen need to lift their game in middle overs.

“We are struggling significantly to get quick runs in middle overs. To improve in this area, we tested Iftikhar Ahmed, [all-rounder] Shadab Khan and [top-order batter] Usman Khan up the order under our rotation policy. But unfortunately injuries to Mohammad Rizwan, Azam Khan and Irfan Khan Niazi hit our plans in this series [against New Zealand],” Babar said during a presser after Pakistan survived a scare while registering a narrow nine-run win over an under-strength New Zealand team in a thrilling fifth T20 International here at the Gaddafi Stadium on Saturday night.

The result ended the five-match series tied at 2-2 with one game in Rawalpindi washed out.

“We are scoring 50 runs on average in powerplay [first six overs] which is not bad but we should add 40-odd runs from seven to 10 overs and 90 to 100 in the last ten overs with power hitting, particularly in the last five overs,” the captain added.

Pakistan, Babar further said, also still lacked in fielding department. “Though the boys have made some improvement, more work has to be done in this area.”

As captain Babar was not satisfied with the result of the series against New Zealand, saying “the home team should have won by bigger margin”.

But, he said, as Pakistan currently were going through a rotation policy, some margin should be given to the team.

He praised Shaheen Shah Afridi, who tilted Saturday’s match in Pakistan’s favour with three wickets after breaking the opening partnership quickly to finish with four wickets for 30 runs in the match to help Pakistan restrict New Zealand to 169 all out.

“In my last interview I had said that Shaheen is [our] best bowler and he knows how to make a comeback. He is mentally strong and dedicated and fighter too and the way he gave us [the] wickets at a crucial time made me significantly happy as captain,” Babar said.

He lauded for Azam, saying the team also missed him. “He has the talent to change the match with his power hitting in a few overs.”

Babar also expressed satisfaction over the performances produced by pacer Mohammad Amir and all-rounder Imad Wasim, who played their first international series against New Zealand, after withdrawing their retirement last month.

While noting that Pakistan could not post 200-plus in any match of the T20 series against New Zealand, Babar said, “Sometimes it also depends on nature of the pitches. Our team has crossed 200 in many T20s at the same grounds [in Rawalpindi and Lahore].”

Babar also defended attacking young opener Saim Ayub, whose performance remained below par against New Zealand.

“Saim has loads of talent and he with his attacking strokeplay can put the rivals on back-foot; he should be given some more opportunities,” the skipper stated.

“As Pakistan still have seven to eight T20s left ahead of the World Cup [June 1-29] the places are still up for grabs.”

He also defended new entrants like Usman, emphasising that the richly-talented batter had just become part of the Pakistan team and required some time to settle and prove his credentials at the highest level.

Meanwhile, New Zealand skipper Michael Bracewell expressed his delight over his team’s performance against a strong side like Pakistan.

“Overall it was a good entertaining series. Pakistan also played good cricket and my boys also learnt a lot by playing against [their] big players,” off-spinning all-rounder Bracewell said after the match.

About losing the fifth T20 from a good position, Bracewell said despite the slump they fought till the very end.

“Unfortunately we in middle-orders lost some quick wickets to go on backfoot but still the players did pretty well by fighting till the last moment.”

Bracewell said his team played outstanding cricket in Pakistan for which all members of the touring team deserved applause.

“International matches have very different pressure, and my young players coped with it [pretty] well,” the New Zealand skipper said and appreciated the crowds in Rawalpindi and Lahore who came in big numbers to watch the action.

New Zealand coach Gary Stead, speaking after the fifth T20, said he was proud of the way his team bounced back to draw the series in Pakistan even if it is unlikely that several members of the touring side will make his World Cup squad.

Stead, who will name his squad for June’s World Cup in the US and Caribbean on Monday, was content with that turnaround after a seven-wicket thrashing in the first match to be completed in Rawalpindi.

“I’m very proud of the way our team played,” Stead told reporters.

“We had a disappointing first hit out and where we were soundly beaten but to bounce back from that I thought was really pleasing and I think there’s a few young guys that have certainly increased their stocks over here.

“Let’s not forget Pakistan only two years ago were World Cup finalists and … for us to compete with them I think was really, really pleasing for us.”

Published in Dawn, April 29th, 2024

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