Pakistan won the opening match of the series, but lost the final two games as England sealed a 2-1 series victory.
After the hammering in the ODI series, Pakistan began the T20I series as underdogs against an England side that was close to full strength. With a very short turnover period to prepare after the ODI series, Pakistan had to get the loss out of their system. The one plus for the players was their recent outings in the PSL, with the likes of Sohaib Maqsood and Azam Khan joining the squad.
Meanwhile, England welcomed back some of their titans of white-ball cricket, including Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler, etc. Fresh and raring to go as the teams look to finalize their World Cup combinations, motivation was no doubt high on both sides.
Pakistan started the series with a bang in Nottingham. In front of a charged-up and noisy crowd (a constant throughout the series), Babar Azam crafted a superb 49-ball 85. Ably assisted by a fifty from Mohammad Rizwan and cameos from the rest, Pakistan piled up their largest total in the format, 232/6. They went on to win despite a stunning ton by Liam Livingstone, as Shaheen Shah Afridi picked up 3/30 and took home the Man of the Match award.
The remaining matches in Leeds and Manchester took on a different look, however. England piled up 200 at Headingley, being bowled out with a ball to spare. Then, the Pakistani middle-order struggled against the spinners, crashing to a 45-run defeat. In the last T20I, a one-man show by Mohammad Rizwan couldn’t save Pakistan from another close defeat, despite Pakistan’s spinners almost turning the game on its head. Thus, the hosts sealed a 2-1 win.
Spin played a huge role in the series, particularly in the last two T20Is. Pakistan’s plans in the face of a spin overload were found to be wanting. England’s spinners finished the series with 10 wickets @ 23, going for just 8.3 runs/over. In the last two T20Is, their figures read 10/162 in 22 overs, an average of 16.2 and an economy of just 7.4.
Considering that they were touring England after having played half a season of the PSL in the UAE, Pakistan would have been hopeful of a better outcome against the slow bowlers. But it simply wasn’t to be. Much of this could have been resolved with…
In the first T20I, everything seemed to go to plan for Pakistan. The two openers started at a relatively slow pace but changed gears fast. Babar Azam led the way with an attacking innings, then when he slightly struggled for a couple of overs, Mohammad Rizwan came to the party. Afterward, Sohaib Maqsood, Fakhar Zaman, and Mohammad Hafeez all played short, impactful knocks. Everything seemed to be going according to the plan.
In the last two T20Is, Pakistan’s batting was up against the wall a couple of times. In these crunch moments, however, the management’s role appeared to be lacking. With Babar Azam falling at the end of the powerplay, they sent in Maqsood, knowing that England would be looking to bowl their leggies – Maqsood’s kryptonite if you will. After he fell, they opted to send in Hafeez to join Rizwan at the crease – with both known not to be quick scorers against spin. Meanwhile, Fakhar (left-hander with the match-up advantage vs. leggies) and Azam Khan (currently Pakistan’s most destructive batsman against spin) waited for their chances. By the time Rizwan and Hafeez got out, the required rate had risen from 11 to almost 14, leaving the others with too much to do. The result was a mere formality after that.
Next was the match at Old Trafford. Pakistan here rightfully felt that the pitch would offer turn and picked Usman Qadir to complement Shadab Khan and Imad Wasim. However, they did that at the expense of Azam, the Pakistani batsman with the highest SR against spin in recent times. The script from the previous match almost repeated itself, except that the ball spun more, and the spinners were harder to handle. After the match, captain Babar Azam accepted that the visitors were a few runs short. Relying on your poorest players of spin to face most of the spin overs is a strategy that is doomed to fail.
Pakistan’s powerplay output with the bat continues to lag behind the top teams. What’s far more concerning is that there is no easy fix to the problem. Across the series, the biggest difference between the two teams in terms of batting in phases was Pakistan in the powerplay. England finished the series scoring at 10 RPO in the powerplay, while Pakistan scored at just 8.3 – a difference of 30 runs across the series.
This was partly down to Rizwan’s struggles in the first T20I and then Babar in the final T20I. To their credit, they did attempt to get out of the hole(s) but could not do so. With Sharjeel Khan struggling in powerplays since his return and Fakhar also a powerplay struggler for a long period, Pakistan have no alternatives for the time being in terms of personnel, with both Babar and Rizwan far ahead of the other options.
If we’re to pinpoint another aspect that contributed to the two losses, it would have to be the fast-bowling. In the last two T20Is, Pakistan’s pacers conceded 10.4 RPO, while England’s conceded just 7.8. The contrasting styles of the two batting lineups no doubt contributed to this. England’s pacers averaged 35, picking up only 4 wickets, perhaps indicating Pakistan’s lack of intent. Meanwhile, England’s batsmen were more than happy to go after the pacers.
Shaheen Shah Afridi impressed with a fiery opening burst in the first T20I, pocketing the Man of the Match award for his 3 wickets. He was economical in the 2nd T20I but bowled a poor over in the final match. Meanwhile, Mohammad Hasnain was impressive in the first T20I but expensive thereafter. Haris Rauf, on the other hand, conceded 11.5 RPO. Hasan Ali replaced him for the final encounter, potentially indicating the management’s diminishing faith in Rauf despite his good death bowling output.
A loss in a bilateral T20I series is hardly the end of the world – if you’re willing to learn lessons from it. However, in his post-series press conference, Babar Azam suggested that Pakistan primarily lost due to mistakes on the field rather than decision-making. But why not both? Why not improve the decision-making in line with modern teams that keep adapting?
In 2021, with ever-advancing analytics, being rigid isn’t an option. Rather than expecting batsmen to pull off miracles, Pakistan must make the best use of their resources. Currently, that doesn’t appear to be happening.
Up next is a five-match T20I series against West Indies. With the World Cup getting closer and closer, this will indeed be a series to watch closely. Hopefully, Pakistan learn from their mistakes and keep progressing.