Aise Kaamon Kai Liye Hum Hi Hain
How Pakistan backed Iftikhar Ahmed for the 2022 T20 World Cup, and he lived up to his billing.
“Shaba udhar kharay ho kar dua karo, aise kaamon kai liye hum hi hain” is the now iconic line uttered by Iftikhar Ahmed as he walked out to face a hat-trick ball with victory in sight. A direct Urdu-to-English translation may not do true justice to just how well that encapsulated Iftikhar’s role in the team. But if one were to try, it would be along the lines of: “C’mon, stand there and pray – I’m in the team for such tasks.” Not quite the same oomph, is it?
All of Pakistan’s T20Is in 2022 were played after PSL 7, where Iftikhar had averaged 17 and struck at 126. In the 4 T20Is since his comeback to the national team after the 2021 T20 World Cup leading up to PSL 7, he had 46 runs in 4 innings. Essentially, since his Player of the Tournament performance in the National T20, gutted by squad call-ups, Iftikhar had 184 runs in 13 innings at an average of 16.7 and an SR of 130.
Pakistan have played 24 T20Is in 2022, and only two players have played every single one of these matches: Babar Azam, the captain, and Iftikhar Ahmed. Iftikhar was persisted with because, as the great man has suggested, he can do things that others in the team can not. Number one on the list was seemingly being able to bat in Australia, and the second was to bowl off spin.
The suggestion that he was among those better suited to Australian conditions was based on two innings he played three years ago while the rest of the lineup was failing. These two innings were a 62* (34) and a 45 (37). There is the slight issue of the better of those innings’ venue being the Manuka Oval based in Canberra, which is not your typical Australian ground with big boundaries and steep bounce. There is also the fact that he took a liking to Kane Richardson, plundering 45 off 17 when matched up with him while taking 63 off 55 (SR 108) vs. the rest of the Australian bowlers. Richardson would perhaps not make the fast-bowling attack of the top 6 teams in the world, although Australia thought differently in their final group game of this T20 World Cup.
And then there is the off spin which, in theory, is a perfect complement to the away spin of Shadab and Nawaz. However, a slight glance at the numbers would tell you that in both his overall T20 and T20I career, Iftikhar actually has pretty similar returns while bowling to right and left handers. The averages are relatively the same, with less than a 0.5 difference in economy. He is not the kind of left-hander specialist like, say, Mohammad Hafeez was, who Pakistan were looking to replace. Naturally, one has to take into account that he would not be deployed in front of every right hander, and indeed he has bowled more than double to lefties than righties. But it is quite amusing that the two traits that made Iftikhar special could’ve been picked apart.
But Pakistan persisted with him, mostly because something is better than nothing. Oh, he can only bat well in Australia at Canberra vs. Kane Richardson? Well, the rest of the batting lineup could not even manage that, so what do you want from us? He bowls pretty much the same to lefties as righties? Fine by us; at least he bowls something different from the front liners.
Iftikhar might never play again for Pakistan in his favorite format – one-day cricket. But he is one of the few players in the world to average close to 50 in List A cricket while striking at 90+. With experience, he has managed to marry consistency with explosivity, acting essentially as a high-yield anchor for his domestic sides. It is this role that Pakistan wanted Iftikhar to play in their T20I side, a proposition that seems preposterous to anyone who saw him plodding away vs. spin in Asia, struggling to rotate strike. But Pakistan were adamant and stubborn; Iftikhar will not be a death hitter – he will be a proper middle-order bat.
For all of Pakistan’s haphazard thinking, shuffling batting orders, players, and combinations in the countless T20Is leading up to the 2022 T20 World Cup, one of the few things that remained constant was the belief Iftikhar would bat in the middle order, and he will play the T20 World Cup.
In the T20 World Cup in Australia, Iftikhar walked out to the middle three times with his team in trouble within the first five overs of the innings and twice delivered half-centuries at strike rates in excess of 150. Because “aise kaamon kai liye hum hi hain.”