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2016 World T20: Muddled Pakistan have plenty to ponder

2016 World T20: Muddled Pakistan have plenty to ponder

Pakistan will end 2015 with the bitter taste of a 3-0 rout at the hands of a largely inexperienced England side.

The T20 series defeat, in harmless conditions in the UAE, set the alarm bells ringing but anyone who has followed Pakistan's limited-overs performances over the course of the year would agree that it did not come as a surprise.

Twenty20 is a battle of moments; copybook cricket usually takes a backseat in this format. And Pakistan likes to pride itself on being the most 'natural' T20 sides in world cricket.

The 2009 World Twenty20 crown and an impressive overall record (56 wins in 95 international outings) have kept the side in top shelf but recent results have left a lot question marks ahead to the 2016 World T20.

Shahid Afridi and company have experienced a decline, and given the quagmire the team is in – mainly over team selection issues – they are likely to struggle in India.

Pakistan’s show in T20 Internationals this year has been topsy-turvy, to say the least. They started off the year with an unexpected seven-wicket drubbing at the hands of Bangladesh, where they were also blanked 0-3 by the hosts in the ODI series.

After smothering a weak Zimbabwe side in the two T20 home games in May, with rookie opener Ahmed Mukhtar giving a standout performance, came the high point: the green-shirts stunned Sri Lanka 2-0 in their backyard with young guns Imad Wasim and Anwar Ali booming.

It was heartening to see the team performing well in high-pressure situations, and the endeavours featuring budding players’ contribution made it all special. The renaissance of veteran all-rounder Shoaib Malik was equally elevating. Pakistan downed Zimbabwe 2-0 again in run-of-the-mill away fixtures but they failed miserably when faced with their first big challenge.

Very few expected them to wilt in the familiar conditions in the UAE where the Test team had earlier trounced England 2-0. It was indeed unusual to see them swept aside 0-3 by Eoin Morgan and company, though the small margin of defeats do not indicate England’s overall supremacy. Still the losses laid bare the chinks in Pakistan's armour ahead of all-important World T20, now less than three months away.

Looking at Pakistan’s entire T20 show during the year 2015, it can be safely concluded that while they found a few promising young campaigners for the slam-bang format, their mettle as a team always remained in doubt.

It’s really complex for any expert of the game to explain how an outfit which outsmarted current T20 world champions Sri Lanka at their venues, lost to Bangladesh (not taking anything away from Mashrafe Murtaza-led team’s outstanding performance).

Looking ahead, the major query is: are Pakistan really prepared for the challenge in India next year?

The causes of the dip in T20s are similar to those plaguing the ODI side.

There are clear indications that national interests have been compromised in the selection of players on too many occasions, perhaps only to serve someone else’s interests. No wonder the team appear ill-equipped against stronger teams.

The brazen irregularities in the team selection (both by the national selection committee and the team management) has perhaps become a ‘norm’. What is the criterion for selection? 2015 did not give us any clues.

Forget the past faults, consider the latest anomalies that exposed the horrifyingly wrong strategy of our selectors and the touring team management in the UAE. Why were Sarfraz Ahmed and Mohammad Rizwan – the two vital cogs of the T20 team – axed by the team management for different games against England? With the World T20 just months away, was it the right time to experiment?

Why was Umar Akmal played for all three games despite his failure in the first two, plus his alleged involvement in controversies?

The purpose of picking 39-year-old Raffatullah Mohmand for the England T20s remains as ambiguous as the working of our selection committee. Haroon Rasheed and his selection team, it seems, seriously lack the direction they need to work in. Had the previous selectors spotted and given chance to Raffatullah a few years ago, perhaps it would have benefitted Pakistan as well as the player.

And nobody knows which magic wand works for Sohail Tanvir, who despite being a mediocre pacer is not only selected in the national squad but also often makes the playing XI, as he did against England in the UAE. With absolutely no notable international performance under his belt, the left-armer’s name has kept popping up regularly for the last four years.

Will the selectors or the team management explain as to why their decisions haven’t clicked? Exactly what strategy did the selectors and team management (mainly captain and head coach) have in their minds when they chose players for certain games? Who will be responsible if Pakistan experience a crash-out in the World T20 where they are grouped with strong teams of Australia, India and New Zealand? Will some be held accountable for the England series rout?

Taking into account the history of Pakistan cricket, one reckons it will require a sort of revolution for the Pakistan Cricket Board to carry out genuine scrutiny of its own officials.

Owing to the massive selection glitches, the Pakistan think-tank and the players will now need to do something exceptional to excel at the World Twenty20.

Our batting looks fragile, is short of experience and lacks direction. Other than a settled veteran in Mohammad Hafeez and an exuberant Sarfraz Ahmed there are not many we can bet on.

The selective in-and-out policy for Ahmed Shehzad of late has affected his natural aggression; a determined-looking Mohammad Rizwan and a gutsy Anwar Ali down the order haven’t played much at the international level.

A positive sign for Pakistan in the last few months has been Malik’s resurgence; one hopes the experienced pro, a vital component in the middle-order, fires at the World T20. And not many who follow and understand the game minutely will pick Afridi, who recently showed some flashes of his past robustness with the bat, as a game-changer, though he may prove all of them wrong, on his day!

The bowling. Pakistan need to shape up as 20-overs-a-side duels hardly give you time to think and act. Without the services of Hafeez and Saeed Ajmal, the attack looks pretty harmless.

Therefore, in this new scenario Mohammad Irfan, Wahab Riaz, Anwar, Malik, Afridi along with youngsters Yasir Shah and Imad Wasim (probably one of them) are likely to form the core.

The PCB has finally decided to give Mohammad Amir – who has completed his five-year spot-fixing ban -- a chance to make comeback in international cricket, as the left-armer was called to the national fitness camp last week.

Pakistan are scheduled to visit New Zealand next month for a short limited-overs series. And if Amir is in PCB’s World T20 plans, then the bowler is almost sure to visit New Zealand. If selected, no doubt the in-form fast bowler can be a decisive factor in New Zealand as well as the world event.

However, there are some issues relating to Amir's probable comeback, and reports suggest he may have trouble obtaining a visa to New Zealand after his conviction in the spot-fixing trial.

There have been unconfirmed reports of some players not feeling comfortable sharing dressing room with the pacer. Hafeez has been quite vocal about his opposition.

All this makes the work on Amir’s comeback a tricky task for the PCB. Bringing the players, including Amir, and the entire team management together behind closed doors to talk with them candidly and sort out the issues by the PCB high-ups will minimise, if not eradicate, any tensions within the team that may surface due to the bowler’s return.

Last but not the least, there have been speculations -- amid the poor show by the T20 team during 2015 -- of a rift between some players and head coach Waqar Younis, who has been criticised openly by some former Pakistan cricketers for his alleged high-handedness in dealing with his charges.

Interestingly, there is a counter narrative to these speculations. According to a highly credible source, the head coach enjoyed a nice time while carrying out his duty with the Test team; the outstanding results produced by Misbah-ul-Haq and his team explicitly back this view.

If there is some sort of friction between Waqar and the T20 set-up – captain or whoever -- this should be settled once and for all. Waqar is a legend whose services for the country both as player and coach have been of high value; and so any controversy involving him doesn’t suit his status.

More importantly, brewing differences within the squad on the eve of World T20 will only damage Pakistan’s cause. It is duly expected that the head coach, Afridi, with loads of experience behind him, and all the players will function while remaining in their respective domains with one and only one aim in their mind during coming months – Pakistan’s win in the World Twenty20.

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