Pakistan comes into the fourth edition of the ICC World Twenty with extremely high hopes. They beat a fighting Australian team, 2-1 in a 3 match T20 series in the UAE recently. Besides, Pakistan has been the most consistent team in the world by far when it comes to T20 cricket. They made it to the finals of the inaugural edition of the World Cup 2007 before losing to archrivals India. But two years later, and they beat Sri Lanka in the final of the tournament at the Home of Cricket, Lord’s to win an ICC event for the first time since 1992. Come 2010, and Pakistan tried their very best to replicate their achievement of 2009 in the West Indies but were flattened by Michael Hussey’s flamboyance in the semi-final, as Australia snatched a win from the jaws of defeat.
The year 2012 has been a difficult one for Pakistan which is why it was decided a few months earlier that Misbah ul Haq will no longer be a part of the T20 team, let alone being its captain. The idea was to make the T20 team a lot different than that which played in ODI cricket so that the workload of the players reduces. As a result, Misbah was replaced by Mohammad Hafeez (who is known as ‘Professor’ by his teammates) as captain. What gives Pakistan a huge advantage coming into this tournament is not just their recent form, but also the fact that a majority of their players participated in the Sri Lankan Premier League which was a month ago. So they have the first-hand experience of playing T20s in Sri Lankan conditions and knowledge of players from other countries since they could play alongside them in the 7 franchises.
Besides, Pakistan has always been known as a ‘maverick’ team which relies more on madness than method for success. This makes T20 cricket a perfect format for Pakistan’s players. All these factors makes this team my pick at least to win this year’s tournament, even as Sri Lanka has the home advantage and the all-rounders to deliver which makes them my second favourite. Here are the 15 who will represent Pakistan in the World T20 2012 –
1) Mohammad Hafeez
Hafeez did not get his due to play for Pakistan on a regular basis until May 2011, during the tour of West Indies. His inconsistency was the reason of his failures in the past, but he worked hard on it. Now, Pakistan cannot think of a good opening pair without Hafeez featuring in it. He values his wicket even more, but his aggression has not died and that makes him a dangerous prospect in the T20 format.
However, earlier he was a batting all-rounder. Now he seems to be a bowling all-rounder who opens the batting. His off-spin bowling helps in containing runs and he is street smart to know how to bowl to a particular batsman, depending on the situation of the game. This has no doubt made him the No.1 ODI bowler in the world as per the ICC rankings.
In the Sri Lankan Premier League, he turned out for Mahela Jayawardene’s Wayamba United and such was his presence in the team, that they missed him badly in the crunch semi-final of the tournament in which they lost to Uva Next, despite coming into the game topping the points table. But he first made a name for himself in the T20 format by playing a couple of game for the Shah Rukh Khan owned Kolkata Knight Riders in the 2008 season of the Indian Premier League.
Hafeez maybe the fourth captain to lead Pakistan in a World T20 tournament, but he would surely like to be remembered as the second captain after Younis Khan to have led Pakistan to the title triumph.
2) Abdul Razzaq
Razzaq has an impressive record for an all-rounder in T20 internationals. In the 29 matches he has played for Pakistan in the last six years, he has scored 361 runs averaging 23 which is decent since he usually bats lower down the order. While he has picked 20 wickets at an economy rate of 6.86. He will definitely go down as Pakistan’s most underrated player ever but he has this ability of turning matches in Pakistan’s favour in a span of couple of overs. His 109 against South Africa in an ODI in Abu Dhabi in the end of 2010 was one of the finest ODI knocks by a lower order batsman, which helped Pakistan pull off a stunning chase of 280.
His experience will be crucial for Pakistan’s success in this tournament. He can now boast of having played T20 cricket in many countries, such as in India when he played in the unofficial Indian Cricket League, in England for as many as five county teams, in Australia for the Melbourne Renegades alongside his team mate Shahid Afridi in the Big Bash last year and in Bangladesh for Duronto Rajshahi this year in the Bangladesh Premier League, which is one of the teams making it to the semi-final stage.
When it comes to bowling, Hafeez can use Razzaq to open or even in the middle overs in case the opposition is going strong since he has the variations in pace which can outfox the batsmen and that can increase the chances of many dot balls or wickets especially for other bowlers. He is the man to actually watch out for by any opposition because as long as Razzaq is playing, Pakistan can never accept defeat.
3) Kamran Akmal
The elder Akmal sibling has made a dramatic return into international cricket recently. He has had his moments in the sun in otherwise what can be called as a ‘topsy-turvy’ career of his. Pakistan may be taking a huge risk in selecting him again because of the controversies that he has been a part of in the past. Dropped catches and missing stumping chances in the Sydney Test of 2010 against Australia, being accused of having links with bookies alongside the now disgraced Salman Butt when it came to match fixing in the winning World T20 campaign in England in 2009 do not help his case.
But a return to form in domestic cricket over the last 12 months seems to have done the trick. What has fast tracked his return to the national team is his T20 stint with Wayamba United in the Sri Lankan Premier League recently, alongside his captain Hafeez. He gave the team quick starts and made big scores which actually won Wayamba several matches in the round robin stage. He and Hafeez were sorely missed in the semi-final in which the team suffered a shocking defeat.
Akmal has played in Sri Lanka several times and the fact that he can bat anywhere in the order makes Pakistan’s batting line up flexible, allowing them to spring a surprise at times to their opponents. His strike rate of 126 could be considered good since his batting position is dynamic. The wicketkeeper batsman could be an integral part of Pakistan’s second World T20 triumph.
4) Shahid Afridi
He is known across the world as ‘Boom Boom Afridi’. He is the most recognisable Pakistani cricketer anywhere because of his monstrous hitting and thus a true ‘box office’ player. Afridi has developed such a reputation for himself that he could be branded as ‘Teflon’, which means a man on whom criticism does not stick around with no matter how he is. But honesty, the most loved cricketer of Pakistan is now losing his sheen. Afridi has now become vulnerable as oppositions have figured out how to dismiss him.
So what Afridi does? He tries to become a Shane Warne, by being a dangerous leg spin bowler who can bat a bit. Perhaps he is still in the Pakistan team in limited overs cricket because of his bowling abilities. He is amongst the top wicket takers in T20 internationals of all time, having picked 58 wickets in 50 matches at an economy rate of 6.10, with teammates such as Umar Gul and Saeed Ajmal in the honourable list. He could be considered a vital bowling member of the team, and a bad day for him might be a bad day for the team.
But fortune on a given day does play a role in T20 cricket and Afridi has had plenty of it so far. He was the man of the tournament in the World T20 2007 and scored a quick fire half century after being promoted to the No.3 spot in the final of the 2009 edition against Sri Lanka to help the team win the championship. He was also the captain of the team in the 2010 edition in the West Indies, which reached the last four. So he will be one of the few players in this team to have played all the four editions of the competition.
What also strengthens Afridi’s case is that he too like Razzaq has played T20 cricket almost all around the world, especially in the last 12 months. He recently played for the Ruhuna Royals in the Sri Lankan Premier League, for Hampshire in England, for Melbourne Renegades in the Big Bash in Australia and the Dhaka Gladiators in the Bangladesh Premier League. Pakistan’s most capped T20 player will be relied upon the most yet again as he hopes to win the title for his country yet again.
5) Shoaib Malik
Malik would be remembered by many as the first captain to have led Pakistan in a T20 World Cup. In India, he is popular mainly for having tied the matrimonial knot with the country’s most overhyped tennis player, Sania Mirza rather than having turned out for the Delhi Daredevils in the 2008 Indian Premier League competition. But for this tournament, his selection does not seem to be justified although he led Sialkot Stallions to yet another T20 championship win this year in Pakistan’s domestic competition, a campaign in which he starred both with the bat and ball.
He has never been able to find consistency when he plays for Pakistan, but at times he can be brilliant. He has scored a majority of his ODI hundreds against India, and all of them have either come in the ICC Champions Trophy, Asia Cup or in India. If he can play such kinds of knocks with more aggression in this tournament, Malik could be Pakistan’s unsung hero. But the problem lies in the fact that Malik does not have the flamboyancy required for T20 cricket these days and at the same time, he cannot be asked to bat in the top 4 of the line-up because of the presence of other capable batters in the team.
He can bowl decently if required, but his place in the starting XI this time is unlikely. Malik seems to have been selected just in case one of the players gets injured and in that scenario, Pakistan would need an experienced player to replace him.
6) Saeed Ajmal
The 34 year old right arm off spinner is the No.1 bowler in the world as per the ICC rankings in T20 internationals. Such is his value to the team now that Ajmal’s mere presence can shake the opposition’s belief of winning a game. His doosra is almost unplayable by any batsman in the world because he has the ability to either bowl it fast or slow around the off stump line. Ajmal also has the ability to prove those critics wrong who strongly abide by the fact that T20 cricket is the most unfriendly to spinners.
Having taken 60 wickets in just 42 T20 internationals is no mean achievement, and that makes the highest wicket taker as of now in this format of the game. If Ajmal is taken care of by the opposition, then Pakistan could be put on the back foot even as they have a multi-dimensional bowling attack. It was seen in the World T20 2010 semi-final when Michael Hussey gave Ajmal the pounding of his life, to help Australia post an improbable victory. But he has come a long way since and that match has perhaps made him a much capable and stronger cricketer. Now Hussey has to think hundred times before attacking an Ajmal ball, as seen in the recent series in the UAE.
If Pakistani players are allowed to participate in the IPL next season, Ajmal could be the most sought after player to be picked by all the franchises. Being the best in the business at the moment, he had also participated for the Dhaka Gladiators in the Bangladesh Premier League this year and more importantly for the Kandurata Warriors in the Sri Lanka Premier League recently, helping them make it to the last four of the competition. In this edition of the World T20, Ajmal would perhaps be the hardest bowler to stop.
7) Mohammad Sami
Sami’s case is pretty much similar as that of Shoaib Malik’s. He has been in the Pakistan team since a decade now, but has rarely proved his worth to the team. He was once considered as a potential successor to Waqar Younis once he retired, and for a period Shoaib Akhtar and he were a lethal fast bowling duo which opened the bowling for Pakistan in all formats of the game. It was a delight to watch him to touch 150 km/hr especially against oppositions like India but then inconsistency got rubbed in him, which is why he lost his place in the team several times over the years.
Although he was out of contention further due to his ties with the Indian Cricket League in the 2007-2009 period, but like many others, he did make a comeback eventually to the national team with some impressive performances for the Karachi team, also being its captain. His comeback was against Australia in the now infamous Sydney Test in 2009, but he has clearly lost his pace which earlier made him dangerous to contend with.
As Shoaib Akhtar recently pointed out that Pakistan’s pace bowling stocks are on a decline, Sami seems to be the best option for a substitute just in case the likes of Sohail Tanvir or Umar Gul are injured. His experience might help him in this competition, but unfortunately he is likely to carry out drinks for the team in most of the matches.
8) Umar Gul
Gul is yet another hero for Pakistan in the T20 format of the game. He is tied at the moment with Ajmal since he has picked 60 wickets, but ironically second in the list of all time wicket takers because he has got them in 43 matches while Ajmal has done so in 42 matches. He is amongst the pioneer bowlers to have mastered the art of using as many variations as he can in a span of 24 balls available, in a T20 game. Come the World T20 2012, and Gul will be amongst the few players in this team to have represented Pakistan in all the World Cups so far in this format.
The fast bowler hails from Peshawar, so a decent height is something he has inherited. He is not only an expert of bowling yorkers, but also frequent back of a length deliveries because of his knack of extracting a tremendous amount of bounce from even the most unhelpful of pitches. He has been Pakistan’s bowling spearhead in all forms of the game for quite a while now, and is likely to be so until he quits the game. If Gul is in full form, he is a true match winner for the team and teams around the world know that already.
He does have the experience of playing T20s around the world. Due to his impressive performance in the World T20 2007 in South Africa, Gul was amongst the Pakistani players to be picked by Kolkata Knight Riders in the 2008 IPL auction alongside current captain Hafeez, Shoaib Akhtar and the now disgraced Salman Butt. And being the leading wicket taker in Pakistan’s winning World T20 campaign in 2009 made Worcestershire in England sign him and Western Australia did the same for the Big Bash competition. In the Sri Lanka Premier League, he played for the champions Uva Next and although he was not at his best, he was an important part of the team and learnt a lot about bowling in Sri Lanka which could help Pakistan big time in this tournament.
9) Sohail Tanvir
The lanky left arm fast bowler from the capital city of Rawalpindi made all eyeballs big on his international debut for Pakistan in a World T20 2007 group match against archrivals India largely due to his wrong footed action. It was predicted that he would not succeed in that tournament, but he proved many wrong by being a surprise package for most batsmen. Tanvir alongside Gul were the reasons of Pakistan’s success in that competition. His career since then has had its up and downs mainly due to injuries rather than being out of form. Although he has picked 21 wickets in 23 T20 internationals at an economy rate of 6.99, which is decent for a pace bowler in this format of the game.
He became a household name in India in the IPL 2008 season when he ended as the highest wicket taker in the competition playing for the so called ‘underdogs’ Rajasthan Royals, and also hit the winning runs in a tense final against Chennai Super Kings. Rajasthan’s captain Shane Warne did consider him to be his right hand man, and helped him realize that he can be amongst the world’s best bowlers in the future. That tournament also increased his stocks for a long time, so much so that other clubs in the world were interested in hiring his services.
The 28 year old has played alongside Shahid Afridi for South Australia in the past, in the Bangladesh Premier League for the Sylhet ‘Royals’ (co-incidentally!) and alongside Saeed Ajmal for the Kandurata Warriors in the Sri Lanka Premier League this year. Tanvir has to play the role of a supporting bowler to Umar Gul very well if Pakistan has to win, although he is a match winner in his own way. His batting too is an asset for Pakistan to have, in case they collapse like they famously do in many matches and this is why he is still preferred by Hafeez to play in the starting XI ahead of Sami and others.
10) Yasir Arafat
Arafat could perhaps go down as the unluckiest cricketer in the history of Pakistan cricket. He has oodles of talent as he can bowl at express pace courtesy his slingy action and is a very useful No.8 or No.9 batsman for the team. Now aged 30, he still has years of cricket left in him but with the likes of Shahid Afridi, Shoaib Malik and Abdul Razzaq being favourites in the eyes of the selectors, Arafat may never fulfil his dream of being a regular in the Pakistan side.
He continues to be amongst the substitute players even in this World Cup squad. But his selection does have merit. He has made a name for himself not only in domestic cricket in Pakistan, but also having been a consistent performer over the years in English county cricket in the T20 format playing for several counties, like his former teammate Azhar Mahmood. He is also one of the rare Pakistani players to have played in New Zealand’s domestic competition, representing Otago. Besides England and New Zealand, he also played alongside the likes of Chris Gayle for Barisal Burners in the Bangladesh Premier League this year.
11) Raza Hasan
The newbie of this Pakistan team, Raza Hasan can trouble many in the future especially like Kevin Pietersen with his nagging left arm spin bowling. The young 20 year old has made rapid strides in domestic cricket, having played for teams such as Rawalpindi Rams in the past and recently assisted Shoaib Malik’s Sialkot Stallions to win the T20 championship in Pakistan which helped them qualify for the Champions League T20 next month in South Africa.
In the past, he has shown the tendency of performing in an extremely efficient manner despite conditions not being unfavourable to spin bowling. He was one of the stars in the Under 19 World Cup in New Zealand in 2010 as well as in England, having played for Devon. But 44 wickets in the 2011-12 season in domestic cricket fast tracked his call to the Pakistan national squad for the T20 fixtures in the United Arab Emirates against Australia, and made his debut going on to play all the three matches. In that series, he was impressive considering his inexperience and thus might get a chance to play in the starting XI, partnering Saeed Ajmal in the spin department.
If he does well, Pakistan has bright days ahead of them as they always have been on the hunt for a young leg spinner and there is a shortage of it in the country.
12) Nasir Jamshed
He may look like someone above the age of 22, but the 22 year old has now established himself as an opening batsman of the side in one day internationals and T20s alongside Mohammad Hafeez. The aggressive southpaw made his first class debut at a tender age of 15, and a year later played a key role in helping Pakistan defend its Under 19 title. It took him another two years before he could make a breakthrough into the national team, making his ODI debut against Zimbabwe in January 2008.
Yet surprisingly he has only played 19 ODIs for Pakistan so far, mainly because of the irrational decisions taken by the PCB and Salman Butt, the former left hand opening batsman being there in the team until August 2010. Yet he averages 42 and has a strike rate of 95, which are handsome figures for an opening batsman. And he made his T20 international debut against Australia recently, and scored 45 runs in the 3 matches he played. The numbers do not reflect on his talent, but he is the future of the Pakistani batting line up, which has always required someone reliable as Pakistan has usually been the land of fast bowlers. With his aggressive style of batting, Jamshed’s starts could determine Pakistan’s fate in this competition.
13) Umar Akmal
Umar Akmal is now known as Umar Akmal, rather than the younger brother of Kamran Akmal. The 22 year old right handed batsman boasts of plenty of talent, and that was seen on his Test debut against New Zealand in difficult conditions in Dunedin in late 2009. He scored a hundred against an attack comprising of Shane Bond and Daniel Vettori. But when it comes to T20 cricket, what makes him a dangerous prospect is his fearlessness in playing whichever stroke he likes to. Usually he throws his wicket away unnecessarily, which is why he is not able to play big innings but T20s is all about attacking as much as possible and Umar is really good at it.
He has a decent record in T20 internationals. In the 34 matches he has featured in for Pakistan, he has hit 714 runs at an average of 25.50 and more crucially, a strike rate of 117. This makes him one of the few Pakistani batsmen to be a success in the format of the game. Umar now forms an essential part of Pakistan’s middle order in ODIs and T20s, and could be the future Inzamam ul Haq if he improves his temperament and skills when it comes to batting and his attitude towards playing the game. Bowlers need to get him out to rip apart this batting line up, so he needs to value his wicket much more than before as well as score runs quickly. A tricky prospect it is indeed for a youngster in a World T20 competition.
He has not been in the best of touch in the recent series against Australia but in T20s, one shot can get a batsman back in form and thus Umar Akmal is a danger for the opposition once he is present at the crease.
14) Imran Nazir
Imran Nazir is another opener who has been sidelined by the Pakistani selectors since ages. He is also aged 30, but he still has the firepower to be attacking for the T20 format. An opening batsman, Nazir has played in 19 T20 internationals for Pakistan and has a strike rate of 130 as he is all about giving him team a quick start and then leaving the rest to fate a la Shahid Afridi when he was opening the batting at one point of time for the team. Although he was a part of the rebel Indian Cricket League at a point of time, it did help Nazir to expand his horizons and consequently gain experience of playing in different conditions.
These days, he is a part of the Sialkot Stallions team and will also play in the Champions League T20 next month. What made him return to the team though, was his form for the champions Dhaka Gladiators in the Bangladesh Premier League. He also played some key knocks for the Nagenahira Nagas in the Sri Lanka Premier League recently, helping them make it to the finals. Apart from his explosive batting, he is also considered as one of Pakistan’s best fielders at the moment alongside Umar Akmal which is an asset for the team and this presses for his inclusion in the starting XI ahead of Nasir Jamshed.
Some good performances in this World T20 2012 and Nazir could become a regular in the Pakistan ODI and T20 teams at least, as he still has a lot of cricket left in him.
15) Asad Shafiq
Shafiq might have been bought in by the selectors in the final squad to perhaps fill in the void for the axed Misbah ul Haq, who is now only the ODI and Test captain of the team. He is likely to get a place in the starting XI and probably bat in the top order, as he is more of an innings stabilizer rather than a destroyer. A strike rate of 104 in 10 T20 internationals does not do justice to ODIs, let alone T20s these days so Shafiq will have to improve on that if he has to be more effective in the shortest format of the game.
What adds to his disadvantage is that he did not recently play in the T20 internationals against Australia and neither any form of club cricket across the world, unlike most of his teammates. He could be considered as a weak link in this Pakistani team, and here is where perhaps Misbah might be missed in the tournament. But Shafiq is a fine ODI and Test player and he has proven so in the last year and a half. A classical player however is also respected in T20 cricket depending on his role and that would be interesting to see.