The United Arab Emirates is a frequently-visited venue for franchise cricketers. It hosts the T10 and now, for the second year in a row, the Indian Premier League. Talking about international teams, the Pakistanis will be slightly ahead in confidence at the T20 World Cup.
The UAE had turned home venue for the men in green nearly a decade after the terror attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team bus in Lahore in 2009. The players have friends and family in the Arab nation. They will find familiar faces in the sea of supporters.
Rizwan, a dynamic player
Mohammad Rizwan batted out of his skin in South Africa, Zimbabwe and England. The wicketkeeper-batter, who has been opening with skipper Babar Azam, is dynamic and not afraid to play his shots. The 29-year-old had made his T20I debut under Shahid Afridi in 2015, but the omnipresence of Sarfraz Ahmed led to his disappearance.
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Rizwan has single-handedly won T20Is for Pakistan in recent times. The 59-ball 89 against New Zealand in Napier and the unbeaten 104 against South Africa in Lahore are special mentions since his comeback in 2019.
Senior campaigner: Hasan Ali lead the Pakistan pace attack. Ahead of the team’s departure, he highlighted that the National T20 Championship provided a solid platform for the World Cup-bound players. – AP
He also smashed two crucial half-centuries in South Africa — 74 not out in Johannesburg, and 73 not out in Centurion — that led Pakistan to a series triumph.
Babar is a T20 darling. The World No. 2 batter is ahead of Virat Kohli, who is ranked fourth in the list. He scored runs in Australia, England, South Africa and most importantly, the UAE — 392 runs, four fifties at an average of 49.
The late inclusion of all-rounder Shoaib Malik as a replacement for the injured Sohaib Maqsood will boost the middle-order. The skipper of the inaugural edition, and the member of the winning side in 2009, provides an off-spin option. Fakhar Zaman, initially named in the travelling reserves, has swapped places with Khushdil Shah.
Depth in spin bowling
Pakistan has depth in the spin-bowling department with Imad Wasim and Mohammad Nawaz (slow left-arm orthodox), Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik (right-arm off-break) and Shadab Khan (leg-break).
Fast bowler Shaheen Shah Afridi is the new star of the pace setup. He can make the odd-ball nip back into the right-hander to cause lbw dismissals and possesses a well-disguised slower for deception.
Hasan Ali, the senior campaigner, will lead the pace attack. Ahead of the team’s departure, he highlighted that the National T20 Championship provided a solid platform for the World Cup-bound players and that he expects to start the tournament with a victory over India on October 24. “We can’t take any game easy. The first game will be important as a win can be a huge boost. There is a lot of hype about the game against New Zealand too,” he told reporters at a press conference.
Ali stressed that he is not bothered by the low-scoring games in the IPL, played in the UAE. “UAE wickets tend to be on the slower side. I have not seen too many international games with a score of above 200. I think 160 to 170 is a good score.”
The 27-year-old Ali has 15 wickets in nine appearances at an average of 18.33 in the UAE.
Ali wants to operate as a unit. He will not mind if he doesn’t pick up too many wickets either, as long as the team wins. “As a senior bowler, I will try to lead the pace attack. I want to give my 110 percent, and if one wicket can win us the match, my target will be to get that wicket.”
Weakness: New coaches and new ideas
Misbah-ul-Haq and Waqar Younis’ resignation ahead of the big-ticket event forced the Pakistan Cricket Board to rope in new heads. Matthew Hayden and Vernon Philander have been appointed the coaches for the T20 World Cup, but it may take a while to adjust to their methods.
- Babar Azam (captain), Shadab Khan (vice-captain), Asif Ali, Fakhar Zaman, Haider Ali, Haris Rauf, Hasan Ali, Imad Wasim, Mohammad Hafeez, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohammad Wasim Jnr, Sarfaraz Ahmed, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Shoaib Malik.
- Travelling reserves: Khushdil Shah, Shahnawaz Dahani, Usman Qadir.
X-Factor: Mohammad Hafeez
The 40-year-old all-rounder is a T20 GOAT. When Hafeez made his ODI debut in 2003, most of his current teammates were in school. The spin-bowling all-rounder started his T20I career three years later when the entire side played their first match against England in Bristol.
It has been 15 years. Hafeez, now a globetrotter who plays in the franchise tournaments, has been studying, learning, thinking and improving.
Hafeez has been in stellar form since the start of 2020. He smashed two crucial fifties in England, followed by an unbeaten 99 against New Zealand in Hamilton. He will be looking to cross that line and end the 18-year career with a hundred.