Thursday, January 26, 2023

PCB: Saqlain reflects on India win with one eye on Afghanistan match

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Pakistan’s Super-4 campaign in the ACC T20 Asia Cup got off to a sweet start on Sunday when they avenged their Group A loss to India in an equally thrilling contest. The result was an outcome of intelligent and smart tactical decisions, which were translated into winning performances by the batters, who, in the process, highlighted and underscored their batting depth, power and prowess.

The strategic decision to promote left-hander Mohammad Nawaz to number four to counter India’s leg-spinners Yuzvendra Chahal and Ravi Bishnoi, and make the most of the shorter boundary on one side of the ground, fully paid off. The five-wicket win also brought to the fore the courage and determination of the team as Mohammad Rizwan, Pakistan’s most successful batter since the start of 2021 and the tournament’s highest run-getter, braved a knee injury in the first innings to post the highest score of the match.

When Iftikhar Ahmed struck Arshdeep Singh down the ground on the penultimate ball to run two and complete the win, Pakistan recorded their highest successful T20I run-chase against India.

Recently, Pakistan’s successes have been built around the top-order excellence with Babar Azam and Rizwan scoring a heavy chunk of the team’s runs.

However, with Nawaz rising to the occasion with his blistering 42 off 20, and Khushdil Shah and Asif Ali batting intelligently, pushing the ball into gaps to pick ones and twos and dispatching balls in the slot for boundaries in the last overs, augurs well for Pakistan, considering that the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup is just over five weeks away.

“The win against India has certainly lifted the morale of the team and brought to light the depth of our batting unit,” head coach Saqlain Mushtaq told PCB Digital.

“T20 cricket is all about tactful maneuvering and we have the requisite individuals to make this happen at any phase of the innings. Mohammad Nawaz is a utility player and we all knew he had what it takes to deliver in pressure situations. But it is just extraordinary how this youngster went in and took the game away from India in a matter of a few overs.”

Despite India cruising to 62 for one by the end of the PowerPlay after being asked to bat, Pakistan spinners, once again, bowled with great discipline in the middle overs that not only slowed the flow of runs but also provided crucial wickets.

Between the seventh and 14th overs, India’s run-rate dropped to eight and in the meantime, they lost KL Rahul, Suryakumar Yadav and Rishabh Pant, only left-hander in the middle-order. Nawaz and Shadab Khan were in operation during this phase of the innings and returned one for 25 and two for 31, respectively bowling at economy rates of 6.25 and 7.75, respectively.

“What Shadab Khan and Nawaz did for us in the middle overs was absolute gold,” continued Saqlain, adding “They put on the shackles and got us wickets regularly which had a huge impact on the total. It was because of these middle overs that we were able to restrict India to 181 for seven.

“Haris Rauf bowled with exceptional skill in the last over, denying a batter of Virat Kohli’s calibre any room and keeping him glued to his crease with immaculate yorkers.

“If you see, we now have a well-rounded bowling attack: Naseem Shah and Shahnawaz Dahani are brilliant with the new ball, our spinners are a threat to any side in the middle overs and Haris Rauf is a class act in the death. Add Shaheen Afridi to the equation and we have a bowling line-up, which will send chills down the spine of any batter in the opposition camp.”

Pakistan play Afghanistan in their next Super-4 match on Wednesday at the historic Sharjah Cricket Stadium. The two teams have faced off twice in the format with Pakistan coming out victorious both times. The record win against Hong Kong and Super-4 triumph over India have given Pakistan the desired momentum ahead of what promises to be another exciting contest, while Afghanistan, after a perfect group-stage campaign, enter the contest following a loss to Sri Lanka.

“Afghanistan are a good side and they have shown that from time to time, but we are confident to get a hat-trick of victories on Wednesday,” said Saqlain.

“The conditions in Sharjah will be suitable for spinners, but if a batter spends enough time in the middle, there will be a lot of runs on offer in the latter part of the innings with shorter boundaries.”

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