Pakistan won the tri-series after beating New Zealand in the final by five wickets, all thanks to the perennially misfiring middle-order, which came good when Babar Azam and co needed it the most.
Ever since the twin defeats against Sri Lanka, in the Super Four match and then the final of the Asia Cup, Pakistan have been asked to provide valid reasons for sticking with the same bunch in the middle-order.
The seven-T20I series against England at home was once again a moment of worry for Pakistan, where the middle-order kept missing the mark with their performances.
Then came the tri-series against hosts New Zealand and Bangladesh, and once again Pakistan were seen shuffling batters up and down the order just to figure out who can bat where and how well.
The result was all-rounder Shadab Khan’s promotion to the number four position, while Mohammad Nawaz was also asked to bat up the order, pushing the likes of Haider Ali, Asif Ali and Iftikhar Ahmed down one place each.
Luckily enough, Shadab and Nawaz delivered, with the latter playing two match-winning innings against Bangladesh and then later in the final too.
With the T20 World Cup just a few days away, Haider finally performed as he hit three fours and two sixes, with a strike-rate of over 200, to make the target chaseable for Pakistan in the final.
Iftikhar provided the finishing touch, while Asif once again left much to be desired with his 2-ball innings.
All in all, Pakistani middle-order delivered just at the right moment as the warm-ups for the T20 World Cup are just around the corner.
Pakistan will face familiar foes England and dark horse Afghanistan, before they enter their group and face India, Bangladesh, South Africa and two other qualifiers in the Super 12s.
If Pakistan want their middle-order to carry on their momentum from the final, all of them should be allowed to face maximum deliveries in the warm-ups, which means star opener Mohammad Rizwan and Babar will have to take a back seat in the matches.
It may seem irrational to not let your best batters spend time in the middle, but if history is any proof, Babar and Rizwan, or even if one of them delivers, Pakistan always find themselves in a comfortable position. They also have each other to rely on due to their extended camaraderie at the top of the order, which makes them play without any pressure, run blindly on each other’s calls and turn the hitting switch on and off when the other partner is not having a good day.
The middle-order doesn’t have this luxury. Everyone has played with everyone, but mostly in tense situations, where it is mostly hit or miss, or for very minimal time, thus disallowing them the time to form bonds in the middle-order.
Good batting in the warm-ups will allow the middle-order to gel together and learn each other’s ways of handling different situations, thus giving them the much-needed confidence to perform when it matters the most, during the T20 World Cup games.
Pakistan, after the tri-series final win over New Zealand, have very few questions left unanswered.
In batting, the opening is sorted, the middle-order with the introduction of Shadab and Nawaz earlier than usual seems fine, while the finishers are finding rhythm slowly but surely.
In bowling, pacers Naseem Shah and Haris Rauf have been delivering consistently even in the absence of ace pacer Shaheen Shah Afridi. The return of the star left-arm pacer this time around won’t fill a gap in bowling, instead, it will bolster the Pakistani pace attack, something which should be scary for Babar’s opponents.
Pakistan are one of the favourites to win the 2022 T20 World Cup after missing the silverware just because Mathew Wade was having a good day last year in the semi-final. This time around, tons of T20Is against quality oppositions have battle-hardened Pakistan for victory. All they need to do is make the most of this opportunity.