With the novelty of the first T20I done and dusted, the Independence Cup got down to serious business when the World XI team came roaring back in the three-match series to win the second T20I in spectacular fashion.
On a slowish pitch, Pakistan appeared to be on their way to a series-winning victory when they put up a challenging 174 after batting first, but a Thisara Perera special — where he slammed 47 runs in just 19 balls — put paid to all such hopes. The visitor’s victory in the second T20I by a convincing margin of seven wickets has therefore put new life into this tightly-fought series.
Before wondering what Pakistan can do next to come away with glory in the final match of the series, it would be instructive to understand where they went wrong in the second T20I.
For a start, the exclusion of one of Pakistan's most promising all-rounders in Faheem Ashraf raised a few eyebrows. This was ostensibly done to take into account the slowness of the pitch but his batting abilities cannot be overlooked as he displayed in his previous appearances in England during the summer. Whilst Ahmed Shehzad did end up as the second-highest scorer in the second T20I, his strike rate still lagged behind others.
A case, therefore, for a replacement for Shezad could now be made for the final game with Ashraf an out-of-the-box and possible candidate to open along with the vastly improved and free-scoring Fakhar Zaman.
The Pakistan bowling attack suffered at the hands of Perera and there will be some putting this down to simply a bad day at the office. However, given the urgency of the situation, Mickey Arthur and Sarfaraz Ahmed may have to have a good look at the selections of Usman Khan Shinwari and Sohail Khan for the next game.
Pakistan will suffer if Sohail continues to bowl without any forethought and very likely against the bowling plans given to him. His suitability for the Twenty20 format was always been suspect and his performance in the second game would have won him no friends.
With Hasan Ali's injury an issue and Mohammad Amir unavailability for the third T20I, options are limited in the fast-bowling department and one suspects Sohail will be reluctantly included in the line-up for the final game.
The same should not be true for Shinwari, who did not look the part at the international level, and he should probably make way for either Ashraf or Aamer Yamin.
Either option would be worth the bother for Pakistan and could also provide the youngsters with the international exposure they have been yearning for.
Whilst it appears that Pakistan have to do all the running to get themselves to challenge the World XI in the final game, the visitors for their part seem to have very few worries.
All of their top batsmen are enjoying their time in Pakistan and the depth in batting seems to be a great compliment to Andy Flower's selections for the World XI. Hashim Amla and Tamim Iqbal have formed a great opening bond and have the edge on the Pakistan bowlers which they will continue to exploit in the final game.
In Tim Paine and skipper Faf du Plessis, the visitors have players who can re-establish order if an early wicket falls as they ably demonstrated in the games so far. And if there was any doubt about the quality of batting in the middle order, it was firmly removed by the Perera special on Wednesday evening.
The visitors bowling is now reinforced by the inclusion of Samuel Badree and along with the ebullient Imran Tahir will continue to trouble Pakistan's batsmen unless they can find better ways to up the scoring rate in the initial overs and not leave too much on the plate of the likes of Shoaib Malik and Imad Wasim at the end. Ben Cutting is possibly the only weak link in the World XI's bowling attack but he could come into his own in the final game.
In Babar Azam and Shoaib Malik, who recently became Pakistan's highest T20I scorer, the hosts have two batsmen who have continued to provide impetus and runs so far. The other batsmen, including the captain himself have struggled to give a good account for themselves but given the law of averages, they may have to step in and take the pressure off Malik and Azam in the final game.
Overall, it’s been a great week for Pakistan cricket. The return of international cricket has been met with great happiness and fanfare in Pakistan and is something the world of cricket is proud of as well. Regardless of the outcome of the third T20I, the cliche 'cricket is the winner' will hold as true as ever.
When all the excitement of the final game is done, it will be time for all to join hands and thank the ICC, the World XI and the Pakistan Cricket Board for providing Pakistan fans with a spectacular return of international cricket to the country. Hopefully, more good news will follow as Sri Lanka and West Indies hold true to their pledges of visiting the country followed by even better news as more teams follow suit in the future.