12 September 2012 - 07:48pm IST
When it comes to the ICC World Twenty20, no team
can match Pakistan’s pedigree.
Runner-up in the inaugural event in 2007, after
Misbah-ul-Haq attempted sweep over short fine-leg went wrong in the final over,
it was a popular winner in front of passionate support in England in 2009.
In the Caribbean a year later, despite indifferent
performances in the group and Super Eight stages, it came within a whisker of
upsetting Australia, only for a spectacular Michael Hussey heist to deny it in
the final over of the semi-final.
Pakistan’s greatest asset heading into the
tournament is experience. Of the ten players with most caps in Twenty20
internationals, six are Pakistani. Shahid Afridi, Shoaib Malik, Umar Gul, Saeed
Ajmal and Kamran Akmal have all played 40 or more games. Afridi leads the way
with 50. Misbah, who came so close to snatching victory in that epic 2007
final, is no longer part of the squad, but Mohammad Hafeez, who replaced him as
captain, can boast of 34 appearances, at the end of the three-Twenty20 International
series against Australia in Dubai that Pakistan won 2-1.
Ajmal (58), Afridi (58) and Gul (57) are also the
only bowlers to take more than 50 wickets in the format. With all-rounders like
Hafeez, Abdul Razzaq and Sohail Tanvir also in the ranks, bowling is clearly
Pakistan’s strongest suit. It may lack a tearaway fast bowler – Mohammad Sami
is not a certainty for the XI – but Ajmal and Gul, in particular, are experts
at throttling the scoring rate in the final overs.
Nasir Jamshed is a new addition to the top order,
and the batting will need to improve on what are likely to be slow and low
pitches. Much depends on Hafeez and the hit-and-miss talent of Imran Nazir
first up, with the Akmal brothers, Kamran and Umar, to provide the mid-innings
Razzaq, who first caught the eye at the ICC Cricket
World Cup 1999, is also capable of explosive cameos, but it’s the batsmen who
have often let Pakistan down in recent times. Since the ICC World Twenty20
2010, it has won ten and lost 11 games. That included a six-match losing
streak in 2010.
Progress out of the group stage in Sri Lanka will
not be a formality. Pakistan has won all five T20Is against Bangladesh, but New
Zealand has had the edge in recent times despite Pakistan leading 5-3 in the
overall head-to-head statistics.
On subcontinent pitches, the multitude of spin
options and the ability of the pace bowlers to summon up variations, Pakistan
will be one of the favourites.
But for it to emulate the 2009 campaign, it will
need Afridi to rediscover his best form. He was magnificent in both the semi-final
and final of that tournament, combining sensible big hitting with the canniest
slow bowling. If he can somehow stop the clock and replicate those feats,
Pakistan will be there or thereabouts, as it has been at every ICC World
Twenty20 till now.