Can Pakistan Overcome Their T20I Bowling Shortcomings?

With just a few months remaining for the 2021 T20 World Cup, we look at the problems with Pakistan's T20I bowling.

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Pakistan’s T20I bowling, once renowned for its versatility and profound effectiveness, has drooped into a state of relative mediocrity over the last 18 months or so. The bowling battalion that was once known for attributing clear-cut roles to the bowlers has now adopted a more arbitrary on-field approach with regards to team strategies. It ultimately boils down both to the inconsistency shown in retaining bowling combinations and ascribing unsuitable roles to bowlers who are, otherwise, better off handling particular match situations.

In particular, there are two problem-areas in Pakistan’s T20I bowling that have aggravated in this time period – lack of effective spin-bowling options in the middle-overs and the misapplication surrounding the pace-bowling resources available to the team. We delve deeper into both these dilemmas in this article and see how Pakistan can alleviate these challenges, especially with the World T20 looming just around the corner now.

Ineffective Spin-Bowling in the Middle-Overs

Historically, Pakistan’s T20I sides have relied on multi-pronged spin attacks owing to the more conducive conditions to spinners in this part of the world and their efficacy in keeping the oppositions tied down. Therefore, it’s not surprising that Pakistan’s rise to the top of T20I rankings under Sarfraz Ahmed coincided with the concurrent elevation of Imad Wasim and Shadab Khan as Pakistan’s premier spin-bowling all-rounders. However, it isn’t untrue either that Pakistan’s eventual dip in the shortest format has been exacerbated by the fitness and form issues incurred by the spin-bowling duo. While Usman Qadir’s inclusion into the mix has offered a glimmer of hope, things are far from settled for Pakistan’s spin department.

The graphs below compare the performances of the spin-bowling departments of different teams, primarily between two phases: from the conclusion of World T20 to the end of 2018 and from the start of 2019 to date. As illustrated, Pakistan’s spin-bowling performances have essentially deteriorated on all fronts, whereas many teams have actually gotten better in the later phase.

Here’s a quick glimpse into the numbers of Pakistan’s four front-line spinners that have featured regularly since the start of 2019.

Considering the above table, it’s safe to presume that Qadir’s addition to the bowling attack must have offered some respite to Pakistan. On the other hand, the graphs of Imad and Shadab have continuously been sliding downhill, albeit in contrasting fashions. While both of them have failed to make regular breakthroughs with the ball, indicated by their similar strike rates and wickets per match ratios, Shadab has not been able to keep the flow of runs in check. Imad, contrarily, has fared better as far as his economy rate is concerned. Mohammad Nawaz, who was slotted into the side recently in place of Imad, has done decently well.

It can be argued that Imad’s dismissal from the T20I squad is unwarranted, especially when we break down his T20I numbers phase-wise, as depicted above. He has bowled 30 powerplay overs during this period compared to 28 in the middle-overs phase of the innings. His economy rate has, in fact, been slightly better in the middle-overs (6.5) than in the powerplay (6.7). However, despite his ability to keep the runs under check, it has been his ineffectiveness in chipping out crucial scalps during the middle phases that has kept him out of the reckoning in Pakistan’s away tours. With T20 sides shifting to a more pace-oriented approach early on in the innings in recent times, they have begun stacking up spin bowling in the middle-overs. Thus, the importance of spinners stymying the runs flow and plucking out vital wickets during has only augmented, of late.

With that said, Imad’s replacement, Nawaz, has mostly been utilized in the powerplay, as well. Like Imad, he has been quite effective, bowling at an economy rate under 7 and a strike rate of 21.0 since 2019. However, he has not been as potent during the middle-overs phase, going for over eight runs an over, which stands against him given that the middle-overs phase is a big area of concern for Pakistan at the moment.

Inappropriate Pace-Bowling Changes/Combinations

As far as the pace-bowling front is concerned, Pakistan boast a decent amount of depth. Hasan Ali’s redemption and reintegration into all three formats have bolstered Pakistan’s pace battery, while Faheem Ashraf’s T20 bowling progression has also been quite handy. However, the problem that plagues Pakistan here is the distorted plans surrounding pace-bowling changes and combinations.

If we take a glimpse at how Pakistan’s pacers have fared in powerplay overs since 2019, Faheem stands out for his remarkable economy and strike rate. Shaheen Afridi is also exceptional in containing the runs with the new ball but has not broken through as effectively as Pakistan want him to. Haris Rauf and Hasan Ali, contrarily, are on the other part of the spectrum as far as economy rates are concerned.

However, it’s imperative not to consider these phases of the innings discretely, which can, otherwise, lead us to overlook some important patterns. Instead, if we dig deeper into the figures of individual players and study their phase-wise progression or declination, for that matter, there are some telling things to be noted.

  • Although Faheem has been exceptional at the start of the innings, tying up things with his steady lines and lengths, he has tended to leak more runs as innings progress. He has not been up to the mark in the middle-overs, and he is not a death overs specialist by any stretch of the imagination.

  • Haris Rauf, on the other hand, has thrived in a totally contrasting manner. Known more for his sheer pace and full-length bungers, Haris has been quite reliable at the death. In the powerplay, though, he gives away too many runs due to his lack of control with the new ball and getting bogged down by the pressure built by field restrictions.

  • Hasan Ali’s numbers depict that he has bowled better in the later phases of the innings, and the powerplay is the apparent cause of concern where he concedes 10 runs per over. However, in his case, the figures since 2019 may be irrelevant given his return to form, which has been quite recent, in relative terms. Moreover, he has looked in greater control with the new Kookaburra. More so, he is currently bowling sublimely in the ongoing PSL edition, with 8 wickets in 5 matches at an average of 14.50 and an economy rate that is well below 6.

What the Numbers Tell Us

Individual records suggest that Pakistan can do with a Shaheen-Hasan pair to open the bowling with Faheem to chip in later in the powerplay. Haris isn’t suited to new-ball bowling, as we have established above. However, he can be brought in for short bursts when the spinners are operating and can majorly bowl in the latter half of the innings where batsmen are looking to up the ante and, in turn, are likely to present more chances to the bowling team.

This, however, depends on who Pakistan decide to play in their multi-pronged spin attack. They would play two front-line spinners keeping into view UAE as a contender to host World T20. On the other hand, three spinners could be one spinner too many, considering Mohammad Hafeez is in the mix, too, and can roll over his arm if needed. So, it boils down to what Pakistan need the most at this stage.

It’s arguable, but lack of control in the middle-overs has been the primary cause of concern as far as Pakistan’s bowling is concerned in recent times. Of course, Shadab gets an edge over the other three because he is the vice-captain of Pakistan’s T20I side, which guarantees him a spot given he stays fit. But, on the other hand, Pakistan’s middle-order struggles with the bat mean they would ideally want a spin-bowling all-rounder who can contribute with crucial runs lower down the order and also bowl well during the middle phases.

It’s a complex situation with many aspects to it, but one thing is for certain: Pakistan need to sort out these dilemmas sooner than later if they are to give that glittering silverware a shot later this year.

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1 comment
Kamran
12 Jun, 2021

Brilliant article! Shadab Khan should not remain the vice-captain. Usman Qadir should be included + Nawaz/Imad as second spinner..