They’ll tell you that Twenty20 has evolved into an intelligent game where tactics and strategies are key. But then you look at Pakistan bat you honestly wonder, what strategy were they following as they made it to their third consecutive World T20 semi-final.
Their skipper Mohammad Hafeez takes a slow and steady route, completely at odds with the format. Shahid Afridi remains the mad hatter. Nasir Jamshed’s inexperience counts against him at times. The Akmal brothers are often on their own trip. Abdul Razzaq isn’t a regular member anymore. Imran Nazir has been a stylish batsman but rarely if ever does he make a real impact – he lives on his cameos.
But someone, this team has managed to make it to the semis of the batsman-dominated World T20 again. Indeed, one has to wonder what makes the world’s most inconsistent team so consistent, in the most inconsistent of formats?
In the eyes of many, the T20 format is a lottery. Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Australian skipper George Bailey have said it, and anyone who says otherwise hasn’t watched enough T20 cricket – one great knock, or even one innings of 30 (remember Umar Gul against South Africa?) can turn the game around. Because the totals are smallish when compared to ODIs, even small cameos from tailenders are worth their weight in gold.
More than strategy or tactics, what one really needs to succeed in T20 is a gambler’s instinct – the ability to go for broke with each ball and Pakistan has that in abundance. There are times when the gamble fails, and they lose big and look horrible while doing it, but that’s a risk they are prepared to take. Given the backlash they get back home if they crash out early, it takes a certain amount of guts to take a risk.
Chris Gayle is almost the same. The first few balls that the West Indies opener plays are almost certainly left alone or defended. At some level he is gambling that he will come good later and make up the difference. He usually does it, but if he can’t then it leaves the West Indies in a tough position. However, Gayle is still thinking ahead. He plans his innings.
With Pakistan, however, the plan seems to last one ball into the innings. Then, instinct takes over. It doesn’t always. And even then, how much can you really plan for 20 overs?
What really works in Pakistan’s favour is that even though their batting remains unpredictable, their bowling is a constant source of hope. Against Australia, 18 overs of spin saw them through, they threw themselves around in the field and managed to beat the most consistent side in the tournament by 32 runs. In the end, they almost made it look easy. Against India, the very same side looked listless and out of sorts.
A lot of T20 is luck and being in the right place at the right time – and so far it’s got Pakistan a title, a final and a semi-final. They have no reason to abandon their current style and they shouldn’t.
Pakistan with a plan will be rigid; they will simply not be Pakistan because they will not easily be able to adapt to the changes that inevitably arise in T20. But their free approach allows them to do what more structured opponents struggle to.
Someone once said, ‘Children are unpredictable. You never know what inconsistency they are going to catch you in next.’
In that sense, Pakistan are the children in cricketing context – great fun when they are having a good time, but frustrating once they start losing, and you never know what inconsistency they will catch next.