GeneralPakistan vs. New Zealand Preview: Pakistan’s Search for Answers

Pakistan vs. New Zealand Preview: Pakistan’s Search for Answers

Composition of the top 3

The emergence of Saim Ayub in the past couple of years appears to have broken the famed Babar-Rizwan opening partnership, but the top 3 aren’t settled just yet. Babar Azam, now captain once again, will certainly be one of them and looks set to return to his favored opening spot after an excellent PSL. Saim, despite being benched in Pakistan’s last T20I against New Zealand, will likely get an extended run as an opener after another successful PSL, including the emergence of his bowling.

This may lead to the demotion of Mohammad Rizwan after an indifferent PSL. Since he started opening in late 2020, he has opened in 63 out of 63 innings for Pakistan in T20Is, so coming at one-down will be a new experience. Despite his lean recent run and struggles to play impactful innings, he is still considered a vital part of the T20I lineup. Other options for the top 3 are Fakhar Zaman and Usman Khan, but both are more likely to vie for the number 4 spot, while Mohammad Haris doesn’t feature in the squad despite offering a point of difference with his high-impact playing style.

Who will bat at Number 4?

This question has become a regular feature of any Pakistan T20I preview. Since the formation of the Babar-Rizwan partnership in Dec 2020, Pakistan have played 74 T20Is, but only the retired Mohammad Hafeez (13 innings) has batted more than 10 times at Number 4. For now, the answer is likely to be continuing with Fakhar Zaman – offering a left-hand option in the middle-order who can attack spin. He played a couple of blistering knocks in the role in Pakistan’s last T20I series in New Zealand. Not always the quickest starter, he will be required to play somewhat out of his comfort zone, and it remains to be seen if he can make the position his own.

Usman Khan, picked for Pakistan for the first time, will likely offer competition for the position and may get some chances in the middle-order. However, like Fakhar, he is more of a top-order batter and has almost all his T20 success while batting in the top 3. Shadab Khan, despite another good PSL season at his favored Number 4 spot, doesn’t look likely to get a run in this position, while Azam Khan, Iftikhar Ahmed, and Imad Wasim will probably bat down the order.

The formation of the lower order

Azam, having batted in 7 T20Is, is yet to crack the international code so far, but he remains Pakistan’s most obvious choice at Number 5 with his skill set – able to start fast, take the innings deep, hit pace or spin, and with the temperament for the role. He may start the series at Number 5, but one feels that performances in the first couple of games are vital to ensure a longer run. If he plays, this will indeed be the first time he will represent Pakistan at home.

Don’t count out the possibility of Pakistan playing 5 opening batters in the XI – indeed, Fakhar and Usman could both play, with one slotting in at Number 5. Meanwhile, one hopes that Iftikhar reprises his role as Pakistan’s primary death hitter rather than being sent higher up – he showed in the PSL that he is still very much Pakistan’s best option in that regard. Other options for the lower order include the all-round duo of Shadab and Imad – both of whom are coming off impressive performances with the bat in the PSL – alongside new face Irfan Niazi, who is coming off an exceptional domestic season, had a good PSL, and is quite likely the best fielder and athlete in the squad.

Ideal team combination?

Imad’s return, combined with the presence of Shadab, allows Pakistan to play either a very deep batting lineup or an extra bowler. With Shadab’s bowling getting better in the PSL, although he wasn’t quite at his best, it looks like they may opt for the former, but whether that will continue heavily depends on how the all-round spin duo fare and their form. If they are bowling well, there’s no reason that Pakistan will change the combination, with Saim and Iftikhar available as extra bowling options.

If Shadab or Imad struggle, Pakistan could look to change up the combination, play both of them in the top 7, and include one of Usama Mir or Abrar Ahmed. While both may be referred to as leg spinners, Usama’s bowling style is quite similar to Shadab, while Abrar offers something different due to his unorthodox style, having variations such as the carrom ball up his sleeve and also being able to bowl in the powerplay. This combination would also be Pakistan’s only way to fit in four pacers should they want that, with no designated pace-bowling all-rounder in the squad.

How does Mohammad Amir fit in?

There’s no question that Pakistan’s first-choice pacers are Shaheen Shah Afridi and Naseem Shah. However, with Haris Rauf still recovering from a dislocated shoulder and unlikely to play for another month, the third pacer spot is now open. Mohammad Amir, coaxed out of retirement alongside Imad Wasim, appears to be the frontrunner. But should all three play together, it will be interesting to see how they share their overs. Amir is used to taking the new ball, having operated as a change bowler in less than 15% of his T20 matches. Since 2021, he has done so only 11 times in 92 T20s.

This is further complicated by Imad’s presence – another bowler who likes bowling in the powerplay. It is expected that if all three frontline pacers play at the same time, Shaheen and Naseem will open the bowling. It’ll be interesting to see how Amir adapts to playing a bigger role in the middle overs and whether he can leapfrog Rauf in the pecking order. The other pace options in the squad are Zaman Khan and Abbas Afridi – offering something different to the three frontliners, with Abbas being more of a change-ups and middle-overs specialist while Zaman is a death-overs specialist.

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