Two schools of thought emerged at the advent of T20 cricket. You could coin it ‘fun cricket’ as Pakistan’s only World T20-winning captain made it a recurring theme of his press conferences, leading his side all the way in 2009. Or you could look at it as a tactical mind game where you are gasping for breath. There is certainly no right or wrong way of decoding this game. West Indies, and more recently, England have steamrolled their oppositions by out-batting them through cutthroat aggression with the bat. Pakistan have extended their bowling legacy onto the T20 format and found a way of pulverizing top T20 sides in the format’s short history. What you can, most assuredly, follow for optimum results is the blueprint of this generation’s most successful captain: MS Dhoni.
In 2018, Chennai Super Kings famously recruited the ‘Dad’s Army’. Their average age hovered around 35 and fitness and athleticism in the field were speculated as the major potential pitfalls of a side returning to the IPL after a two-year hiatus. Nonetheless, Dhoni has his own modus operandi of leading a T20 side. "We will never be a great fielding side, but we can be a safe fielding side," said Dhoni in a post-match press conference during the season. "We might bleed a few runs here and there, but as long as we use our experience, we'll make it up with our batting and bowling."
Their faith in experience edged them out in tight contests and eventually saw a veteran in Shane Watson scoring a century in the final to win CSK another trophy. The franchise retained almost their entire squad in 2019 and lost to Mumbai by one run in the final. Experience over flashy brilliance is the name of the game in T20 cricket in 2020, make no bones about that.
Can Pakistan afford to trust Kamran Akmal once more?
The two names you see at the bottom of the chart are Pakistan’s best boundary strikers. Elite boundary metrics, especially given Pakistan’s lean supply of high-scoring batsmen, but substandard in the field. Do you trade off a few runs in the field in the hope of a couple of match-winning knocks? Captain Cool MSD would. But that’s for Misbah-ul-Haq and co. to decide. Unfortunately for Kamran Akmal, he has played only four T20Is, all in the space of a week, for what has been a magnificent period in his career since the start of the PSL. Mohammad Rizwan, interestingly part of the national set-up, has the worst boundary percentage amongst 18 batsmen with more than 400 runs in the last 4 years. More worryingly, Asif Ali and Fakhar Zaman are the next best ‘enforcing’ options but did not find a spot in Pakistan’s latest squad that played Bangladesh due to lack of form.
Outside of these batsmen, Ifthikar Ahmed and prodigy Haider Ali seem to have the most chances, realistically, of boarding the plane to Australia and they might well fit in Pakistan’s top 6.
Unlike their batting resources, Pakistan have an overabundance of bowling capabilities and their only headache might be choosing the best combination that suits pitches in Australia. While Shadab and Imad are a handful in Asian conditions, they would not fret over playing 4 out of 5 scheduled games in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide.
Naseem Shah is a sizzling prospect but Pakistan need to play him more leading up to the T20 World Cup. As of now, he most certainly fits in your top 4 seamers if not always in the XI, given Shaheen Shah Afridi’s progress over the last 12 months and the experience of Wahab Riaz and Mohammad Amir. While the latter’s inclusion is almost certain, Wahab, too, has built a solid skillset at the death. The left-arm speedster finds himself at the top amongst the list of bowlers with the lowest economy rates at the death since 2018 beating the likes of Jasprit Bumrah and Jofra Archer.
The pressures of a World Cup campaign would be rigorous and Pakistan would be well served to utilize the experience of their most senior men mainly Kamran Akmal, Wahab Riaz and perhaps Shoaib Malik.