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Feature

Pakistan have a big advantage in the T20 World Cup - inside information

Seven members of the squad will be bringing their CPL experience into this year's global event

Danyal Rasool
Danyal Rasool
05-Jun-2024
Mohammad Nabi, Imad Wasim and Mohammad Amir pose with the CPL trophy, Barbados Royals vs Jamaica Tallawahs, CPL 2022 final, Providence, September 30, 2022

Mohammad Nabi, Imad Wasim and Mohammad Amir pose with the CPL trophy after winning it for Jamaica Tallawahs in 2022  •  Ashley Allen/CPL T20/Getty Images

No one really watches the CPL in Pakistan. For much of the tournament's history, the league's broadcast arrangements have offered no legitimate way to follow it live in Pakistan, and with many games beginning around 4am local time, most people simply don't bother. Those who are motivated enough can find underhand workarounds.
But over the past few months, every stakeholder in Pakistan cricket has been casting a beady retrospective eye on what has been going on in this Caribbean tournament. Bowlers Imad Wasim and Mohammad Amir's excellent CPL form prompted the PCB to coax them out of retirement months ago to get ready to participate in the first T20 World Cup to be played in the West Indies (and the USA) since 2010.
Imad has taken 61 wickets in the CPL, while conceding only 6.20 runs per over (among spinners, only Sunil Narine has more wickets at a better economy). Amir's three seasons have seen him hoover up 43 wickets at 6.5 runs per over. No other fast bowler in the CPL who has bowled at least 40 overs has a better economy rate. No overseas fast bowler has more wickets in CPL history than Sohail Tanvir.
Perhaps it's surprising that the CPL hasn't gained more traction in Pakistan in some ways, given 29 of the country's players have participated in the tournament across the years, more than they have in any other league; the only overseas side with more players who have CPL experience is South Africa. And no overseas nation boasts more CPL winners than Pakistan.
Shoaib Malik is Guyana royalty, having played three seasons with Amazon Warriors, including the legendary 2019 season where he captained them to the final with 11 successive wins.
No wonder, then, that Pakistan are focusing all their energies into a World Cup they feel they have a natural advantage in. There is a sense that their players have knowledge of local conditions to rival any other side there.
"The main thing I've learned is how to utilise the wind there," Imad says. "Because they're islands, they can be windy, and you can use it if you're skilful enough. You try to restrict runs from the windy end and it's the opposite when you bat. That's a tactical battle going on inside each ground."
Most players who have spent any time at the CPL reference the wind. Sohail Tanvir, who played for Warriors, St Kitts and Nevis Patriots and St Lucia Zouks, goes so far as saying controlling the wind can often prove a decisive factor. Just as he made up for lack of pace with canny variations in his own bowling, Tanvir believes that versatility will be key.
"You won't have seen genuine pacers there achieve as much success," Tanvir says. "On those pitches, the quicker delivery is easy to handle and put away. Because there's a lot of humidity there, a bowler who has the skills to swing the new ball will be successful up front. And with the old ball in the second half of the innings, variation is the key."
Amir, who has played for Barbados Royals and Jamaica Tallawahs, says there is early swing regardless of whether the games are during the day or at night. However, he says that the dew later on, especially in Barbados - where Pakistan will play two of their three Super Eights games, should they qualify - will make it easier to chase down higher scores in night games.
The varied nature of the wickets means players will need to think on their feet and adapt mid-game.
"I don't notice the batter," Imad says, "but [focus on] what the wicket demands of me. Does it require me to bowl the slower ball, quicker ball, or just the arm ball? If I have 24 balls, I try to bowl 20 that use the conditions. In Pindi the wicket is flat, and you do something different, like go for wide yorkers. But the CPL won't have Pindi- or Lahore-style wickets; sometimes even 120 is a winning score."
That makes the first few overs of an innings particularly important. "While the ball is new and hard, it's easier to score runs there," Tanvir says. "The older it gets, the more difficult. The West Indian players are able to use their power and score runs at the death too but it requires serious power-hitting."
But it also highlights the value of strikers who can find ways of muscling the older, softer ball past the boundary in the latter part of an innings. Pakistan have agonised over what to do with late-overs hitter Azam Khan, who has by and large been unable to translate T20 league form to international cricket. His record at the CPL, though, potentially makes a case for him as a middle-to-late overs bludgeoner at this World Cup.
Over the last three seasons, only nine players have scored more runs in the league, and only one of those - Faf du Plessis - is not a local player. Only three batters with more runs boast a higher strike rate than Azam's, but it is in the last six overs of an innings that his CPL value really sparkles. In that time, no non-West Indian has a higher strike rate than his 180.81 (min runs scored: 150). And the only man to hit more sixes than his 26 in the final six overs of innings? Andre Russell.
Azam accepts that consistency will never be his selling point, instead making the case for what he feels is his ability to win games.
"There's a lot of difference between franchise and T20I cricket," he says. "In league cricket, I get ten matches in a row, which is good for me. My batting position is such that I don't feel I can win ten matches for my team, but I can win three to four. And it's better if you do it in the later part of the tournament because that's what people remember."
But Pakistan would do well not to focus on the Caribbean alone. One of the unique features of this World Cup is, it's the first one to host main-round games in more than one country, with Pakistan playing their first four games in the United States. That country is virgin territory for a tournament as significant as this, and there's an aspect of the unknown, particularly with New York, which hosts the India-Pakistan clash, and has a new stadium with a drop-in pitch from Adelaide.
In Imad, though, Pakistan have tried to cover some bases there, too. "I played in Major League Cricket last year in Dallas and Fort Lauderdale, Miami, so I know those wickets very well, and wind is a huge factor in Dallas and Miami too. They are similar conditions to the CPL, but better for batting because the ball comes on to the bat. I think New York and Dallas will have high-scoring games.
And while Imad jokes that if the New York wicket behaves exactly like Adelaide, Pakistan had best go in with "seven fast bowlers", he also highlights the value of a spin bowler on almost any surface.
"Spinners are necessary from a tactical point of view, because if the batter is set on one pace, spin breaks his rhythm. For this reason, one or two spin options are handy."
It seems lack of eyeballs on the CPL has not meant Pakistan don't appreciate the significance of what happens there. And this summer, at least, T20 cricket in the West Indies will not want for viewers from the country whose players have made it a home away from home on the other side of the world.

Danyal Rasool is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent. @Danny61000

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