Shadab is the Key – Pakistan’s Batting Woes and Possible Solutions
Pakistan have been plagued by problems relating to their batting approach. What are the possible quick solutions?
As we all know, Pakistan recently has been suﬀering due to a mental aﬄiction. This aﬄiction translates itself into a rigidity regarding batting line-ups and bowling changes, a lack of attention to entry points and matchups, and the attribution of match results to “Qudrat ka nizam.” We come into games with a script – a script we choose not to deviate from and one that makes it easy for opposition teams to read us. We rely solely on individual brilliance to win us games. After being ridiculed by the opposition, we will eventually take a risk and make a change, but when that risk lands, we continue to utilize that same change continuously, and it just becomes another page in the script for the opposition to read.
This previous paragraph is a scathing critique of our approach to T20s. T20s, much like an NFL game, are partly won oﬀ the pitch with your tactics. You make plans and execute them, catering your plans based on your opposition. Of course, the players also play their part and improvise in the game based on changes in scenarios. But T20 is the format where tactical execution is the most important. There is a much lower capacity for individual brilliance to win you games, let alone tournaments.
So what is my point? We need to emphasize entry points for our T20 batting line-up. Rather than sticking to what we submit on paper, we should send in diﬀerent batsmen depending on which overs a wicket falls in and which opposition bowlers still have overs left.
I believe that our bowlers (Shaheen Shah Afridi, Haris Rauf, Naseem Shah, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Nawaz, and Mohammad Hasnain) have enough ability that their individual brilliance can genuinely carry us regardless of tactical plans. Therefore, batting is something I am choosing to focus on.
Points of clarification: I have chosen August 1, 2020, as the date from which I have taken all points of reference. This was the first T20I series that Pakistan played post-COVID (against England in England). I think it is a relevant enough arbitrary cutoﬀ that will show a trend that carries to our modern team.
I’ve decided to break down my argument into two prongs which will target the problems in our batting approach and then provide my recommended solutions. Will the team listen? Probably not. After all, I’m just an unemployed cricket enthusiast rambling. But I love this team enough to go ahead with this, so I’ll do it anyway. So, what are the problems with our batting approach?
Although I didn’t want to elaborate on this point because I don’t think there is a need to disrupt the Rizwan-Babar opening duo, Pakistan have a woeful strike rate in the power play. Among nations that will be playing at the 2022 T20 World Cup in Australia, they have the 10th-worst Powerplay SR (114.3). The teams below them? Zimbabwe, Netherlands, Sri Lanka, Namibia, Bangladesh, and Scotland.
As we saw in the Asia Cup recently, eventual champions Sri Lanka worked on this – their Powerplay SR was 124.5, while ours remained a paltry 111.3.
Furthermore, if we change our arbitrary cut-oﬀ to December 18, 2020 (when Rizwan hit 89 oﬀ 59 balls in Napier), these numbers stay at 113.1. So not much has changed (in fact, the strike rate has decreased).
I understand that the Rizwan-Babar combo is here to stay. And rightfully so. They single-handedly carried our batting line-up in the recently completed series against England, with strike rates of 138.6 and 143.2, respectively. And I understand that Mohammad Rizwan does his best to maximize his output given his ability (compared to Babar).
However, I would really urge Babar Azam to take more risks in the Powerplay. Let go of this fear that the rest of the batsmen are not good enough. You are good enough to take those calculated risks and up your strike rate on your own. You are an elite hitter when set, but more intent earlier in the innings would go a long way toward fixing Pakistan’s issues.
Powerplay (Overs 1-6) Numbers for Teams Participating in the 2022 T20 World Cup since August 1, 2020
Getting Bogged Down by Spin in the Middle Overs
At first, when looking into this, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Pakistan’s overall strike rate in the middle overs was not too bad relative to other teams. They are 6th on the list among teams at the 2022 T20 World Cup, with a strike rate of 129.3. The teams above us are England, India, New Zealand, UAE, and South Africa.
This strike rate decreases considerably if we look at our record against spin in the middle overs, becoming 120.3 and placing us 7th (not a considerable drop relative to other teams). The teams above us stay the same, with the Netherlands being the only addition.
So then, the question arises as to why this is an issue in the first place. My concern is that we can optimize our resources much better to tackle spin in the middle overs.
If we are looking at options currently in the Pakistan squad for the T20 World Cup, those coming to bat in the entry points after the Powerplay have often been Fakhar Zaman, Haider Ali, Shan Masood, and Iftikhar Ahmed.
The strike rates of these players in this phase of play against spin are a harrowing read. Fakhar Zaman averages 16.8 with a strike rate of 107.6, Iftikhar Ahmed averages 67.0 with a strike rate of 109.8, and Haider Ali (surprisingly for me) averages 38.3 with a strike rate of 107.5.
Although Shan Masood has pretty good stats (averaging 55.0 with a strike rate of 152.8), his sample size is considerably smaller. Based on what I have seen in the recently completed series against England and the 2022 National T20 Cup (30.7 average at a strike rate of 128 while batting at number 4), I do not believe he can significantly accelerate against good-quality spin, either.
The problem is that we have batsmen such as Fakhar Zaman and Iftikhar Ahmed coming in at entry points right after the Powerplay. Opposition teams have identified this, focusing on putting a spin strangle against us during these phases of play (as we have seen in the recently completed Asia Cup and the 2021 T20 World Cup semi-final against Australia). These players (who clearly cannot attack spin until set) bog us down in the middle overs, and then we put pressure on our lower order to make up for the inadequate run rate at the death.
Middle Overs (Overs 7-16) Numbers Against Spin for Pakistani batsmen in the 2022 T20 World Cup squad since August 1, 2020
Although the only way we can solve our powerplay woes is by hoping that Babar Azam shows more intent in the Powerplay, the solution for our team being bogged down by spin in the middle overs is more obvious.
We must do away with our rigidity regarding batting line-ups and focus on entry points and matchups. Utilizing these methods doesn’t mean that we are playing inadequate batsmen; it just means that we are optimizing their chances of success and potentially maximizing the runs that we score in the 20 overs that we have.
We should have an idea of which batsmen we should send in when a wicket falls in a certain phase of the game. For example, if we lose a wicket in the Powerplay, we could send in Fakhar Zaman, Shan Masood, or Haider Ali. These are players with some experience opening and (in the case of Fakhar and Shan) the top-performing openers in the previous edition of the PSL.
Furthermore, if we lose a wicket during the overs 7-12 phase, it would make sense to send in Shadab Khan first and foremost. In the limited outings that he has for Pakistan in the middle overs, he averages 86.0 with a strike rate of 175.5 against spin. Furthermore, he has the pedigree of a brilliant PSL season, batting at number 4 or higher for Islamabad United in 2022. He averaged 33.5 at a strike rate of 162.4, with his strike rate being the highest for a Pakistani batsman with a minimum of 200 runs at this year’s PSL. At this point, Shadab’s coming in as the next batsman right after the Powerplay should not even be a question.
Mohammad Nawaz is another logical choice to come in should we lose another wicket in this phase of play. Unfortunately, he does not have a large statistical sample to suggest that he will succeed, given that neither Pakistan nor Quetta Gladiators have employed him in this role. However, he has shown his pedigree on a big stage, as seen by his brilliant 42 (20) against India in the Super 4 stage of the Asia Cup, where he took on the likes of Yuzvendra Chahal and Ravi Bishnoi.
Logically, the batsmen that should come in after Shadab Khan and Muhammad Nawaz are probably Iftikhar Ahmed or Asif Ali. They have considerably high strike rates in overs 14-20, 141.2 168.0, respectively. I am not saying that the player penciled in at number 3 becomes redundant after the Powerplay, but rather that they should not be sent in after that entry point. After that entry point, they should adopt the role of emergency collapse arrestors, who can be called upon later in the innings if required. In that way, you can still attempt to maximize the runs you make in the innings while simultaneously mitigating risk.
What To Take Away
Pakistan have the material to punch above their weight at the T20 World Cup in Australia. If they adopt some flexibility in their approach to the batting order based on the game situation, I firmly believe they have a shot at the title. Although this advice may fall on deaf ears, sending in Shadab Khan (and Mohammad Nawaz after him) at the falling of the first wicket after the Powerplay is paramount to our success. It is the only way we can mitigate our bogging down against spin. Nevertheless, I am optimistic as to what Pakistan will manage to oﬀer up in this T20 World Cup.
If you choose to only take one message from this article, that message would be that Shadab is the key.
Stats sourced from Cricmetric.