The world’s best

Beating Australia in the tri-series final boosts Pakistan's hopes for World T20, writes K Shahid

The world’s best
It was Fakhar Zaman and Aaron Finch who were going to matter the most in the decisive final. Both were on the top of their game. But it was the former who scored more runs on the board and rescued his side that was reeling at 2/2 in the very first Glenn Maxwell over during a hefty run chase.

It is not the first time Maxwell’s off-break has troubled Pakistani batsmen. He once opened the bowling in a Dubai T20I and finished with 3/13. Then there was a double-wicket last-over maiden when he denied Pakistan just two runs in an ODI chase.

Sarfraz Ahmed

The top-order batsmen wearing Pakistan’s green customarily implode during high-pressure situations but that wasn’t the case for Fakhar. He has proved himself to be a big-match player. A century against India in the 2017 Champions Trophy final and now a massive 91 against the Aussies in the tri-series final speak volumes of his ability to cope with the pressure, relying on his fearless – and often matchless – stroke play. Not that there was much doubt, but his place is undoubtedly cemented in the young side.

Fakhar became the highest run-getter in a calendar year in T20Is for Pakistan. Only two players have scored more runs than Fakhar (516) in a year: Virat Kohli (641) and Mohammad Shahzad (520), both in 2010.
Pakistan can dominate the shorter formats in the near future under the successful captaincy of Sarfraz Ahmed

Speaking of consistency, Shoaib Malik hasn’t aged at all and he is still hitting the ball hard all around the park. His crucial contributions during tri-series have made things easier for his side to post healthy totals. Despite the visitors’ troubles in finding a second opener and dealing with a turbulent middle-order, Malik has been there to finish things off in almost every game.

Asif Ali and Hussain Talat, the two Islamabad United talents, have also impressed the selectors in their own way during the series. While the former is a big hitter, the latter enjoys his time at the crease by maneuvering the ball in the gaps.

Even though skipper Sarfraz wasn’t the most dependable batsman in the line-up, he would have been happy to see the lesser experiences stepping up at the highest level.

Pakistan bowling has been reasonably good throughout. True, they got beatings in the pool against Australia, but the fairly young seamers and spinner have got the job done. Mohammed Amir, Shaheen Afridi, Shinwari, Hasan Ali and Shadab Khan have been on the mark.

Fakhar Zaman

The promising bit is that they keep their discipline during the final overs, denying boundary balls to the opposition. Meanwhile, Shadab’s wrist spin is improving with every game. He has earned a reputation for picking wickets at the right moments. He got Finch when he was on song and that turned the tables on Australia.

Fielding hasn’t been the best for the number one T20I side, especially during the final. Both openers were dropped in the beginning, who made the bowlers pay later. There were dropped catches and missed run-out chances at regular intervals, with the occasional dive and save. One spectacular moment was when Shadab took a one-handed catch diving to his right at mid-on.

Meanwhile, Sarfraz needs to work on his fitness as he got run out taking a third run against Australia. It wouldn’t be a bad idea making the yo-yo test compulsory for every player, like in India.

It wasn’t just the ninth consecutive T20I series triumph for Sarfraz, or the highest chase for the green shirts. The Pakistan captain made history by winning a series final in any format against Australia for the first time in the last 23 years.

What is the key to his success? Fakhar’s opening power or match-winning bowling spells? Or the fact that he keeps yelling around at the fielders and the batsmen he shares the crease with? Maybe it’s all of the above and things seem to be working seamlessly for him.

In the 27 games under Sarfraz, Pakistan have lost just four – which is a record in itself. It reminds one of the pre-2010 era when Pakistan used to be unbeatable in the shortest format, not to mention the 2009 ICC World Twenty20 title.

Former skipper Shahid Afridi believes the combination is headed in the right direction under Coach Mickey Arthur. He is confident that Pakistan can win the 2020 ICC World Twenty20. Let’s see what else Sarfraz, other than his ever-expanding smile, has in store for the fans.

Pakistan clearly have a better chance at 2020 ICC World Twenty20 than 2019 ICC World Cup with the current form. If things go smoothly for another two years, the side could conquer the shorter formats.

It’s a pity that the leading T20I sides, Pakistan and India, cannot face each other due to the new low in diplomatic and political ties.