Pakistan kicked off their World Twenty20 campaign against Bangladesh with clouds of uncertainty looming over the batting. They were dispelled in the second over thanks to a couple of sixes and a boundary by Sharjeel Khan.
There was a genuine sense of planning and intent which became even more evident after Sharjeel’s dismissal; Mohammad Hafeez came into bat and deposited a six into the stands off only the second ball he faced. There are days when Pakistan’s batting clicks so this wasn’t a surprise, this was almost due; the surprising part, though, was the level of comfort and ease they enjoyed while constructing the innings.
Ahmed Shehzad and Hafeez made batting look easy at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata and set up the perfect stage for Pakistan’s ‘x-factor’ – Shahid Afridi, who had a point or two to prove and boy he did make a statement! Afridi slapped Bangladesh bowlers to all parts of Eden Gardens. It was as if he was venting out his fury and frustration at certain quarters of media in Pakistan who had anathematized him.
He scored 49 off just 19 balls — vintage Afridiambush. It only required a trademark Afridi celebration with arms aloft after cleaning up a batsman in an attempt to cut him to sign and seal the Afridihallmark on this match. That moment didn’t have to wait long. The Pakistan captain came into bowl in the 6th over of the Bangladesh innings and uprooted Shabbir Rahman’s stumps after defeating him with a wicked drifter.
Out of 27 matches, Pakistan have a win record of 88 per cent while defending a score of 150 or more. So once Pakistan amassed a score above 200, there was little qualm about the outcome. The match was won even before Afridi’s men came out to bowl and that transpires once in a blue moon.
The key to Pakistan’s success was the planning and intent shown while batting. Customarily, their dot ball percentage is around 50 per cent. Today, it was under 30 per cent.
Shehzad is generally most guilty for not rotating the strike; on Wednesday, he scored off 72 per cent of the balls he faced while for Hafeez, the figure was 70 per cent. Shehzad had worked on cutting down the dot balls during his time with Quetta Gladiators in PSL and there is clear progress in that department.
He was fortuitous to work with Viv Richards and the affect is pretty palpable; he is far surer in his shot selection. Gone are the days of Shehzad playing half-hearted pulls straight into the hands of the deep square-leg fielder.
In terms of planning, Pakistan made sure they used their feet against the spinners. Sharjeel tried it although it isn’t his forte and it did result in him losing his wicket but that didn’t deter Hafeez and Shehzad from using the same tactic.
Habitually, this generation of Pakistan batsmen has only tried to hit the big shot after using their feet, however on this occasion they looked to take singles as well. In these conditions, using the crease is essential and the professor – Hafeez — provided a master class in doing so, his back foot play was equally as potent as his use of feet.
Far too often the likes of Sarfraz, Umar Akmal and Afridi are not provided with a platform to launch their offensive. Either they arrive too late to bat with Pakistan chasing the game or they have to resurrect the innings after a top-order collapse.
In this innings, Pakistan not only managed to save the wicket but also went about scoring runs at a much faster pace. In an attempt to protect the wickets, they often go into their shell and become overly defensive in approach. Against Bangladesh on Wednesday, there was a clear effort to do otherwise. Once you provide a decent platform to the likes of Afridi, they can be unequivocally lethal. They are the difference between a competitive total and a winning one as proven today.
Last time a Pakistan captain was put to the sword in this fashion, he (Younis Khan) went on to lead his side to the World T20 title.
It is almost a trend with Pakistan captains to rise when they have to prove people wrong; the team is known for its ability to strike back when put in a corner and this was a perfect stage to do all that having lost five limited overs matches in a row before this one.
Pakistan remain unbeaten against Bangladesh in World T20 matches. Their win sets us up a blockbuster encounter with arch-rivals India on Saturday. India will be looking to bounce back after defeat in the first match and Pakistan will be looking to end India’s domination against them in ICC world events. Both teams have a lot to lose and even more to gain.