Pakistan could scarcely have dreaded being handed as tough a start to the T20 World Cup as an opening game against India – given their miserable World Cup head-to-head record – and India’s status as one of the favourites.
Additionally, Babar Azam’s side have also shown their hand slightly when it comes to the starting XI for that contest, going with identical batting line-ups in the two warm-up games. On the bright side, that may suggest an element of clear-headed stability when it comes to Pakistan’s gameplan, but defiantly sticking to the same side doesn’t mean there aren’t any concerns worth addressing.
Even if they get everything right in terms of selection and preparation, the odds favour their opponents. But in a couple of positions in particular, there’s compelling evidence to suggest Pakistan might benefit from a bit of a reshuffle.
Haider, Hafeez and Malik
Two of these three will play against India, and let’s face it, we all know who the other one is. Haider Ali didn’t get a look-in during the warm-ups despite being called up to the side late owing to his form in the National T20 Cup (317 runs at a strike rate of 146.75 at 63.40 runs per innings), Pakistan preferring instead the comfort blanket of Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez. Haider wasn’t born when Malik made his Pakistan debut and six months shy of his third birthday when Hafeez showed up, but at present, makes a compelling case to pip one of them to a starting slot.
Malik was an injury replacement after Sohaib Maqsood had to withdraw, and like Haider, benefitted from an excellent National T20 campaign, though it did follow on from a truly horrific stint in the CPL. All signs point to him starting, but Hafeez’s position should be more precarious. Since April 2021, Hafeez has scored 388 runs in 24 T20 innings at a strike rate of 103.2, and his poor form with the bat continued in the warm-ups, where he followed up a golden duck with a 14-ball 13 in a game that saw 186 chased. Given five of India’s likely top six batters are right-handers, the theoretical advantage his part-time offspin might offer appears diminished, so it is worth considering if those batting numbers merit a start over a more explosive Haider.
Nawaz over Shadab?
Again, unlikely, given the rigid, conservative framework to which Pakistan tend to stick to, but that Indian batting line-up arguably makes Nawaz the better match-up. If India do indeed stick to a batting line-up with five right-handers in the top six, Nawaz’s left-arm orthodox turning away from the bat might well match up better than a struggling Shadab Khan’s legspin. Virat Kohli and Suryakumar Yadav have notably worse strike-rates against the former class of bowling, and while Rishabh Pant is more destructive against left-arm spin, his T20I record with India isn’t as impressive as his IPL numbers. Shadab’s economy rate, meanwhile, has trended upwards in recent years; he conceded 7.96 in all T20s since 2019, while Mohammad Nawaz’s economy rate is 7.04
At the National T20 Cup, both were expensive with the ball, though Shadab managed just four wickets to Nawaz’s eight. Both had similar strike rates when batting (just under 145), though Nawaz hit a purple patch – 216 runs at an average of 54, while Shadab managed 94 runs at 23.50. But with Shadab appointed the vice-captain and with vastly greater big-match experience, he’s overwhelmingly likely to get the management’s nod come Sunday evening.Internet Explorer Channel Network