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The debate surrounding Pakistan's performance in Twenty20 International cricket has deepened and drawn attention to the challenges in the death overs, where the country has struggled despite starting in the powerplay phase.

Recent statistical analyses, stretching from January 2022, highlight Pakistan's struggle to maintain competitive strike rates during the crucial 16-20 period. This shortcoming puts Pakistan in a sobering position, with strike rates only better than those in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the Netherlands. It signals an urgent need for strategic recalibration and improved execution in the latter stages of the innings.

Scrutiny is becoming increasingly intense as Pakistan navigates the complexities of T20 cricket, where the dynamics of scoring runs and keeping wickets are of paramount importance, highlighting the criticality of addressing the team's shortcomings , especially in the last overs.

Pakistan faced a major challenge in the 2022 Asia Cup final. Despite a seemingly achievable target of 170 runs, the duo of Mohammad Rizwan and Iftikhar Ahmed struggled as the innings progressed against the relentless pressure exerted by the Sri Lankan bowlers.

Pakistan's dilemma in T20 performance largely stems from the struggle to capitalize on mortality rates, which is partly the result of inconsistent selections

This struggle culminated in a collapse of the lower order, exacerbating Pakistan's predicament and ultimately resulting in a comprehensive defeat.

Similarly, Pakistan's prospects in the 2022 T20 World Cup final looked promising when they batted first. However, their initial momentum gradually waned and they managed only a modest total of 137 runs in the 20 overs.

Once again the lower order batsmen failed to capitalize on the opportunity presented on the big stage. This inability to capitalize denied Pakistan the chance to win the coveted T20 World Cup title after a lengthy gap of 13 years.

Amid the prevailing criticism of the strike figures, Babar Azam emerges as a standout performer. As the lynchpin of the team, Babar has the highest strike rate in the death overs since January 2020, among players who faced 100 or more balls in that phase, with an impressive strike rate of 176.35.

This statistic not only highlights his ability, but also highlights his important contribution to the team's performance. Of particular note are the six innings in which Babar remained undefeated. In these instances, Pakistan emerged victorious on five occasions, demonstrating its ability to thrive in pressure-packed scenarios and deliver impactful performances.

Babar's consistency and adaptability during the death overs epitomize his crucial role in Pakistan's T20I efforts, cementing his status as a key player in the team's batting line-up.

In fact, the root of Pakistan's struggles during the death overs can be traced back to inconsistent selection policies and prevailing insecurities among the players. Over the years, Pakistan's team management has experimented with different combinations, often without providing consistent opportunities to emerging talents. This inconsistency has created a sense of uncertainty within the team and hindered the development of a stable lineup.

In the recent T20I series against New Zealand, Azam Khan's quick exclusion after just three matches raised eyebrows among cricket enthusiasts. This decision was particularly confusing considering the significance of the series in preparation for the impending T20 World Cup.

Azam Khan's abrupt removal from the squad highlights the lack of clarity in Pakistan's selection process and raises questions about the team's long-term planning and strategy.

Meanwhile, Mohammad Haris, a promising talent who showed his potential with a match-winning performance in Sydney, has been given just nine chances in T20I cricket so far. Despite his impactful contributions, Haris was overlooked in the recent series, further highlighting the inconsistencies in Pakistan's approach to talent management.

His impressive defeat to South Africa and crucial role in the World Cup semi-final against New Zealand in the 2022 World Cup underline his potential as a valuable asset to the team.

It is imperative that Pakistan recognizes that talents like Haris and Azam Khan cannot be judged solely on the basis of batting averages and occasional failures, especially in the dynamic domain of T20 cricket. Team management must adopt a more strategic and inclusive approach to talent evaluation, providing consistent opportunities and support to emerging players, to foster their growth and maximize their potential on the international stage.

In an interview with Shoaib Malik for a YouTube channel, Azam Khan gave an insight into his cricketing journey and shed light on his contrasting experiences between franchise cricket and the national team format.

Azam expressed a deep sense of comfort and security in participating in franchise cricket tournaments. He described these platforms as environments in which he feels liberated to showcase his natural game, unencumbered by the weight of expectations and pressure that comes with representing the national team.

In franchise cricket, Azam emphasized that he enjoys the freedom to express himself fully on the field, utilizing his skills and instincts without fear of reprisal or criticism. This environment fosters a sense of confidence and creativity, allowing him to explore different facets of his game and make meaningful contributions to his team's success.

In stark contrast, Azam alluded to the perceived insecurities and pressures he faces within the national team set-up. Despite his undeniable talent and potential, he hinted at a sense of unease and concern about his role and place within the team hierarchy. The heightened expectations and intense scrutiny inherent in international cricket can sometimes stifle his natural flair and hinder his ability to perform at his best.

Azam Khan's revelations offer a glimpse into the complexities of professional cricket, where players must navigate a delicate balance between personal fulfillment and external pressures. His candid reflections underscore the importance of creating a supportive and nurturing environment within the national team, one that allows players to thrive and express themselves authentically on the field.

An intriguing statistical anomaly in T20I cricket is Virat Kohli's unparalleled performance, with an average of 50+ and a staggering strike rate of 200 since January 2020, a testament to his unparalleled mastery.

The apparent scarcity of T20 bats in the Pakistan line-up is glaring, with a heavy reliance on openers stretching all the way to the fifth spot, while talents like Azam Khan and Mohammad Haris remain underutilized. Urgent attention from Captain Shaheen Shah Afridi and the management is imperative to rectify this imbalance.

It is crucial to create an environment that cultivates confidence and maximizes the potential of all players, especially with the impending T20 World Cup on the horizon, which will take place in the West Indies and the United States. Addressing these issues comprehensively will be critical in Pakistan's quest for success on the global stage.

The writer is a software engineer who uses data and statistics to parse the complexities of cricket with precision and insight.
X: AbubakarZegt_

Published in Dawn, EOS, February 25, 2024




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