Eyeing the top

Pakistan can reach the top of the ICC T20 rankings with a comprehensive win over New Zealand. K Shahid previews the series

Eyeing the top
Pakistan take on New Zealand in the first T20 at Auckland today. If you’re reading this late, the match might already have finished by now. All three T20 matches will kick off at 11 am Pakistan Standard Time (PST).


1st T20I: New Zealand v Pakistan at Auckland on Jan 15, 2016

(19:00 local | 06:00 GMT)

2nd T20I: New Zealand v Pakistan at Hamilton on Jan 17, 2016

(19:00 local | 06:00 GMT)

3rd T20I: New Zealand v Pakistan at Wellington on Jan 22, 2016

(19:00 local | 06:00 GMT)

Both New Zealand and Pakistan have the chance to hit the top of the ICC T20 rankings by the end of the series. This is despite the fact that Pakistan and New Zealand are ranked sixth and seventh respectively, locked on 114 points.

That only four points separate the top seven sides in the world shows how competitive and uncertain the shortest format of the game is. If either New Zealand or Pakistan sweep the series 3-0, they can leapfrog the five sides ahead of them and replace West Indies at the top of the table.

How much difference a single match makes in T20s can be gauged by the fact that a 2-1 victory would only allow New Zealand or Pakistan to go up to fifth spot. This for Pakistan would be a mere one-spot climb.

However, what is certain is that the ICC rankings table will undergo quite a shuffle before the World T20 in March this year. That event in India will be preceded by the Asia Cup in Bangladesh, which would be played out in the shortest format for the very first time.

A lot of T20 points are up for grabs for the Pakistani side in the next couple of months - not to mention the chance to be crowned the Asian and World Champions. And then of course there is the mouth-watering prospect of lifting the first ever Pakistan Super League (PSL) title in February for many of the Pakistani cricketers.

However, before rankings or other trophies come into play, Pakistan have a daunting assignment in New Zealand which could impact how the next few months shape up for the national cricketers.

Shahid Afridi celebrates taking a wicket against England
Shahid Afridi celebrates taking a wicket against England

Pakistan’s T20 squad for the New Zealand Tour:

Shahid Afridi (c) Aamer Yamin, Ahmed Shehzad, Anwar Ali, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imad Wasim, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Hafeez, Mohammad Rizwan, Saad Nasim, Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), Shoaib Malik, Sohaib Maqsood, Umar Akmal, Umar Gul, Wahab Riaz

A look at Pakistan’s squad for the series shows that there are quite a few individuals who have a point or two to prove. Having discussed Amir’s prospects in this space in a lot of detail, following his return from the ICC ban, we’ll be focusing on the rest.

Umar Gul will be returning to the national side after quite some time. Injuries and lack of form have both derailed his career from the heights of being touted as the best death bowler in T20s six or seven years ago, to falling out of the pecking order of Pakistan’s top 10 pace bowling options. Gul’s return, with the noticeable absence of Sohail Tanvir and Junaid Khan, means that Pakistani selectors are looking elsewhere for fast-bowling solutions. It’s safe to suggest that it was the fast bowling that let Pakistan down in the 3-0 defeat against England in November.

Imad Wasim will be making a different form of comeback as well, returning from injury. After announcing his arrival big-time against Sri Lanka in August last year, Wasim’s all-round capabilities were sorely missed against England. If he can strike form immediately, he’d further cement his position as one of the most crucial cogs of both limited-overs sides.
It's not just Amir who has a thing or two to prove on the New Zealand tour

Similarly Sohaib Maqsood is coming back into the middle-order after Pakistani batsmen’s shaky display against England. A couple of decent knocks and he could well cement his place for the Asia Cup and World T20, especially if he performs well in the PSL as well.

Among the seniors that have a thing or two to prove are Hafeez, Akmal and Wahab. Hafeez hasn’t transferred his ODI form into the T20s and without his bowling he can often threaten to be a liability.

Umar Akmal, meanwhile, has formed a career out of being ‘hit and miss’, with everyone waxing lyrical over his talent for the past seven years. While the consistency needed to be a world-class ODI batsman might be beyond him, Akmal can justify some of the overwhelming predictions with a strong showing in this surge of T20 matches.

Wahab Riaz’s showdown against Shane Watson, which we will witness again in the PSL, was the highlight of the ODI World Cup last year. It wouldn’t be unfair to suggest that Wahab hasn’t quite lived up to expectations since then. While he has delivered a breathtaking spell here and there, it’s obvious that he isn’t quite as effective in the subcontinent. New Zealand’s fast and bouncy tracks will once again provide him with the chance to make his mark.

But once again it won’t be about individuals and how they perform. The New Zealand series will be a strong test for the Pakistani team to overcome its lack of discipline - both cricketing and otherwise - and launch itself on a multi-pronged assault for silverware in the first quarter of 2016.