Pakistan have impressed rather than imploded in previous tournaments, never failing to reach the semifinals and winning the thing outright in 2009, thanks to some Afridi magic.
Mohammad Hafeez, who took over as T20 skipper from the steadying yet stultifying Misbah-ul-Haq in May, forms part of a twirling spin triumvirate with Saeed Ajmal and Shahid Afridi which may have to compensate for a line-up that has only passed 160 batting first twice in the last two years.
If the differing scalpels of Umar Gul – the only bowler to have taken four T20I four-wicket hauls – and Hafeez can open up a side’s wounds, Ajmal is the last person a middle order trying to consolidate (let alone accelerate) wants to see coming towards them with a big bag of drawing pins.
At the crease, Pakistan themselves may struggle to advance through the gears, but with the recently rather subdued Afridi now focused on spanking attacks rather than golf balls, and Abdul Razzaq as finisher, death bowlers still potentially face plenty of boom and gloom.
Despite the odd inspired stumping, Kamran Akmal continues to rival the Boston Strangler for delicate glove work, and expect to see Pakistan bowlers looking aghast at the heavens more than once throughout the tournament.
To be fair to the man with an appeal-cum-scream only a deaf mother could love, Kakmal’s marauding 43 off 26 balls in the recent tied match against Australia in Dubai showed why Pakistan’s decision to recall him to the side this year wasn’t wholly without reason, but his keeping remains haphazard at best.
Player to Watch
The ICC Awards panel might not have been keeping tabs on him in ODIs, but Saeed Ajmal is justifiably the world’s number one ranked T20 bowler, and his mix of deliveries served up with more grips than the average film studio continue to bamboozle the clunking masses as they grope at his wizardry.That he does so whilst being so wryly confrontational only adds to the allure.
Willow-wise, the energy conserving short-arm jabs and languid lofted drives of Nasir Jamshed may also be well suited to the sweltering Sri Lankan heat.
Across three T20 series this year against England, Sri Lanka and Australia, Ajmal has a Scrooge-shaming economy rate of 5.03 and a strike rate of 13.7. Alongside these tremble-inducing figures, Kevin Pietersen’s absence is another boon for the off-spinner because, despite being the only player to fall three times to Ajmal in T20 internationals, cricket’s premier texter-turned-commentator has plundered 348 runs at a strike rate of 134 in seven T20Is against Ajmal.
Hafeez’s charges have been plunged into the tournament’s designated ‘Group of Death’ after being drawn with street savvy New Zealand and conditions-savvy Bangladesh. A failure to make the Super Eights, however, would still be even more surprising than the peculiar decision to omit thrusting young quick Junaid Khan from their squad and, if they progress, few teams will relish taking on the tournament’s historically most consistent side.
Published with permission from Alternative Cricket...cricket for grown-ups.