Unpredictable Pakistan aim for 'third time lucky' at T20 World Cup

Unpredictable Pakistan aim for 'third time lucky' at T20 World Cup


If Pakistan are, indeed, to "return with the trophy", batters will need to step up and match bowlers

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Karachi (AFP) – Pakistan skipper Babar Azam is hoping it is third time lucky for his side at the Twenty20 World Cup after finishing losing semi-finalists in 2021 and runners-up a year later.

Pakistan's build-up to the tournament, which takes place in West Indies and the USA, has been chaotic, with Azam replacing Shaheen Shah Afridi as captain barely three months before it gets underway.

They squeaked a 2-2 T20 series draw at home against a depleted New Zealand in April before heading to Ireland where they slumped to defeat in the opener before coming back to win that series 2-1.

As now seems to be entirely normal, the men in green have shown they still have the capacity to be the best outfit one day and the worst the next, making them the most unpredictable side in the 20-team event which kicks off in the United States on June 1.

Pakistan are placed alongside India, co-hosts United States, Canada and Ireland in Group A. The top two teams will qualify for the next round of Super Eight, to be held in the West Indies with the final in Barbados on June 29.

If they lose to India in what is likely to be a monumental clash in New York on June 9 -- Pakistan have won just one of seven T20 World Cup matches against them -- their final group game with Ireland in Florida a week later could become a knock-out affair.

But Azam is confident his side can be lucky this time. "Semi-final and then final, so it's our turn to win the trophy this time," he said before leaving for Ireland.

'Every base covered'

Since crashing out of the 50-over World Cup in November last year, Pakistan cricket has undergone a multitude of changes with coaching staff changed twice and the white-ball captaincy changed hands from Azam to Shaheen and back.

A news channel owner, Mohsin Naqvi, who is also the country's interior minister, has taken charge of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB).

Naqvi reconstructed the selection committee, held a training camp at an army base to improve the often vulnerable fitness and brought in former South African opener Gary Kirsten as white-ball coach -- all to improve their chances in the World Cup.

Fast bowler Mohammad Amir -- the only surviving member of Pakistan's T20 World Cup title win in England in 2009 -- and spinner Imad Wasim were brought out of retirement to further bolster the bowling attack, spearheaded by Shaheen and fast-rising Naseem Shah.

"My mood is good and my fitness is good and I am looking forward to winning the World Cup," Shaheen told a PCB podcast recently, in spite of reported dissent over the captaincy saga.

"I have good partners and when they do well then you are also motivated." To spur the players further, Naqvi also announced a $100,000 bonus for each player if they win the World Cup.

Mystery spinner Abrar Ahmed and Shadab Khan supplement Wasim in slow bowling. "This is the best team with every base covered, so we can win and there should be no excuse," said Shaheen, whose fitness will be the key for Pakistan.

Pakistan's batting approach and lack of consistency are big problems. While the other teams have started to blast totals over 200 regularly, Pakistan have gone 43 T20Is without achieving that figure.

Pakistan rely heavily on Azam and Mohammad Rizwan who have a world record 10 century partnerships between them. Dashing left-hander Saim Ayub is set to break up the Azam-Rizwan opening partnership which has been criticised for being too slow.

Star batter Fakhar Zaman, newcomer Usman Khan, Azam Khan and Iftikhar Ahmed form a powerful middle-order, but they have struggled for consistency. If Pakistan are, indeed, to "return with the trophy", the batters will need to step up and match their bowlers.