On Wednesday, Pakistan hadn’t turned up in Abu Dhabi to challenge Namibia. They were out to challenge themselves.
Even with their qualification to the semifinal yet to be secured, Babar Azam elected to bat at a venue that rewards chasing teams with dew in the evening matches. Mohammad Hafeez, the veteran all-rounder stated in as many words. “We wanted to test ourselves as we have chased down targets in the last three games,” Hafeez said after Pakistan’s innings. “We wanted to put ourselves in tough situations as anything might happen in the next few games.”
The audacity to treat the contest as a warm-up match could’ve backfired. Indications of that were obvious in the first over itself, when Mohammad Rizwan was left clueless against Ruben Trumpelmann’s left-arm swing. Unable to connect, he played out a maiden over – the first-ever for him in T20Is.
A bit of grass on the wicket did aid the seamers early on, and yet the pitch remained slow. Even Rizwan’s experience in these conditions proved futile initially. “It was really tough to bat on,” Rizwan admitted after the match. “We had no idea what would work. Neither were we able to hit nor were we able to work the ball around. Nothing was working for us.”
He later went on to add in the post-match press conference, “We changed the strategy today (to bat first) because anything can happen in the semifinal. Our plan was to score 190-plus. That was the plan given to us by Matthew Hayden. But we have to reconsider a few things. The way they bowled in the powerplay, I still have no clue what happened. At times it was skidding, at times stopping. At times swinging in, at times swinging out. Instead of throwing our wickets we managed to bat longer. In the end, we reached the score that our coach wanted”
If seen purely from the view of where the two teams stood at the halfway mark, Namibia seemed to have had an edge. Even as Pakistan had not lost a wicket, the two batters had scored only 59 and were yet to find their rhythm. Namibia, on the other hand, had picked up pace. The last of the two wickets to fall was an unfortunate run out – which had one batter slipping and the other batter getting his foot stuck on the dive. They had scored 70 in the same phase
That there was eventually a 45-run difference between the scores of the two teams was a result of how well Pakistan had adjusted to the conditions and paced themselves in the latter half. The same Rizwan, who was clueless in the first half, was putting on a masterclass by the end of his innings, which included a 24-run final over against JJ Smit. When his favoured pull shots were restricted and his offside side play was tested, he brought out a different version of his game. What wasn’t in his control was helped by Namibia’s sloppy fielding.
Rizwan linked the success of his innings, in which he returned unbeaten for a 50-ball 79, to a longer stay at the crease. As unfashionable as it might seem in T20s, despite having struggled for most parts of his stay, Pakistan managed to put on 189 with this approach that Afghanistan too had vouched for earlier in the tournament – bat long.
They amassed an above-par total without even entirely pushing for it. The focus, as made evident earlier, was on testing themselves. To bat Fakhar Zaman and Hafeez in the death overs instead of the in-form Asif Ali was just one of their, “boxes to tick”. Hafeez clicked, yet again displaying what batting coach Matthew Hayden was impressed with his short bursts previously- “intent right from the start”.
That wasn’t the only differentiator. Another one of the concerns Pakistan had to address in the match was the form of Hasan Ali, who hadn’t shone through in the otherwise convincing wins for his team. Having been given the new ball, Hasan not only cleaned up Michael van Linghen off the third ball but also conceded less than run-a-ball in his four-over spell. The pacer was the most economical of the lot in conditions where the ball was coming on easily to the bat.
Namibia, who had come into the contest not only enamoured by the pace of the Pakistani trio but also with a scoring rate of less than run-a-ball against deliveries bowled at a pace higher than 135kmph, naturally struggled to keep up with Pakistan’s acceleration in the second half of the innings against the likes of Haris Rauf, Shaheen Afridi and Hasan.
Maybe against better-equipped batting sides, defending the total may not have been as easy for Pakistan – which in itself is a disappointment for such a mega-tournament where so much is dictated by the toss. Yet, twice in two days, England and Pakistan have testified that toss doesn’t remain the only decisive factor for evening games and that their skill levels in these conditions for this format are far superior than the rest of the pack in this tournament.
Against Namibia, Pakistan were out to test themselves. And that they are able to do it even without breaking sweat should sound like a scary alarm for the rest of the teams in the competition.
For now, Rizwan is carefree Probably confident. Probably bullish. “We have had this trend earlier where we’ve had to rely on the result of multiple matches (for our qualification). Thankfully, that’s not the case anymore. Now, all we care about is what we have to work on. Whoever comes up as opponents in the semifinal, it doesn’t matter. Our team is ready, hopefully we’ll win that match as well.”