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Match Analysis

Old debate, simple answer: Pakistan's batting just not very good

Could Mohammad Rizwan have taken more risks? Either way, the target should have been chased

Osman Samiuddin
Osman Samiuddin
10-Jun-2024
Let me warn you right now. What you're going to read, you've read about before. A lot. If it feels like you've been reading about it for, hmmm, the last three hundred years, it's because you have. Every time, in fact, a big tournament is on the horizon, we're talking about it. Did it very recently ahead of this big tournament that we're in right now.
What else are you going to do though? Rewatch the highlights? Move on? How can you when the very thing you've been reading about and most likely furiously debating over the last three years is the very thing that is the only debate worth having after another loss to India in a world event?
If you've spent three years either being for RizBar (and against the middle order) or against RizBar (and for the middle order), what's one more time? As a refresher, here is a succinct summary of the matter from less than a fortnight ago, from our very own Matt Roller:
Rizwan and Babar bat deep, which means the middle order rarely get the chance to face many balls; when they do, their dearth of recent opportunities means they underperform. That, in turn, means that Rizwan and Babar feel the need to get things done themselves; and the middle order's opportunities are limited once again. What came first, the chicken or the egg?
The specific details from this game are that this time it was Mohammad Rizwan who top-scored for Pakistan with 31. He took 44 balls to do it. He hit one four and one six. He anchored their chase of 120 deep into the innings and when he fell off the first ball of the 15th, Pakistan needed 40 with six wickets in hand. Imad Wasim, Shadab Khan and Iftikhar Ahmed, the lower middle order, combined to make 24 off 39 balls. They hit one boundary between them, a fortuitous edge off Imad's bat. In the end Pakistan fell short by six runs, with three wickets still in hand and an all too familiar script.
Some of you will argue that Rizwan's low-risk batting is actually a high-risk approach. To go so deep, to use so much resource and to still not be ahead of the game when you leave, is inherently unfair on the middle order. When Rizwan began the chase, Pakistan required a run-a-ball. When Rizwan left the chase, they needed nearly seven an over which, on that surface, was always going to be difficult.
Could - indeed should - Rizwan not have taken more chances like Rishabh Pant? Could he not have foregone a degree of control and chanced his bat to attempt a few more boundaries? Pant had a control percentage of 50% in his 31-ball 42 and, frankly, even that feels high. He could've been out at least thrice. But he took risks on a pitch that needed taking risks on, and it came off. Rizwan's control percentage was 70%, and he took no risks except the most ill-advised one: slogging Jasprit Bumrah's very first ball of a returning over.
The counter, of course, is that Rizwan had done enough and 40 off 35 balls with six wickets to come should not have been a problem, even on that surface. All it needed was a couple of boundaries between the remaining batters and the pressure would've gone. That it didn't happen is precisely why Rizwan played as he did. None of Imad, Shadab or Iftikhar tried to innovate, or manufacture a shot on a pitch which needed it. Indeed, it is an indictment that it took Naseem Shah to show the way, scooping Arshdeep Singh in the final over by when it was already too late.
At one stage, across the 16th and 17th over, Imad's shot options seemed to have whittled down to the solitary one: a cut square. Only he could barely connect. In the penultimate over, Bumrah bowled two full tosses to Iftikhar. Numbers show that Bumrah's full tosses are harder to hit than most, but these were probably not those ones, the low ones that miss a yorker length marginally. These were thigh-high gimmes, angling right into Iftikhar's wheelhouse. He swung at both, got a leg bye off the first and was dismissed off the second, hitting high but not getting close to the midwicket boundary. These are familiar scenes of failure, just different names. Imad, Shadab, Iftikhar today, Haider Ali, Asif Ali, Khushdil Shah, Azam Khan over the last few years.
If there is a hot, new fresh take in this tired old debate though, it's this. This isn't an either-or problem. It's not even a debate. After years of arguing that one or the other is the real problem and that they are linked, as this loss, and this campaign, has made crystal clear (Babar Azam top-scored against the USA but with a strike rate of 102 and, Shadab apart, the middle order 33 off 25) is that both are the problem.
In other words, Pakistan's batting - top, middle, lower-middle - is just not very good.
Which seems like a really obvious take, but after a game in which they failed to chase 120 it hits home like a new, revelatory truth. RizBar are consistent but low-impact openers whose low impact is hidden behind any number of pointless batting records (Most runs! Quickest to so-and-so-thousand runs! Highest average! Most century stands!). And the middle order is a long list of faceless, revolving failure. Different approaches, different philosophies, old hands, newbies, returnees, reinvented hitters, allrounders, specialists, finishers, but no solution to a continuing problem.
Pakistan have made the last four and the final of the last two T20 World Cups but sift through the results and it's rarely been the batting that has gotten them there. In fact, in the two key games of those tournaments - the semi-final against Australia and the final against England - it is the batting that has cost them.
The chances of getting that far this time are fading swiftly, but the reasons for failure will be the same as they have always been.

Osman Samiuddin is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

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