It was a much-needed triumph. More than the maintenance of the number one T20I ranking – which Pakistan are likely to lose in the near future – or even ending the string of losses from 2019, the 2-0 series win against Bangladesh was needed to initiate the rebuilding process in a format that has been getting away from the national side over the past 12 months.
In a World T20 year, it was important for Pakistan to get their act together to approach the 10 months with a more forward-looking lens than with the entire focus being fixated on the good, bad and ugly of the past.
Our focus here, over the next three months, would lie outside the national T20 side. Next week the second leg of the Bangladesh tour begins with the solitary Test in Rawalpindi. That would be followed by the fifth season of the Pakistan Super League till the end of March. After that the third leg of the Bangladesh tour would feature one ODI and the second and final Test in Karachi.
Indeed, the PSL would have a major say in the selection of the national side leading up to the World T20 and in the tournament itself. Selector-coach Misbah-ul-Haq has said as much as well. However, we do wonder how that would actually pan out.
Following the Sri Lanka T20I series clean sweep at home in October, Misbah did claim that Ahmed Shehzad and Umar Akmal had been selected owing to their performances in the PSL. Now the PSL is contested in February-March, while that series was played seven months later. The World T20 in Australia will be in October this year as well.
In addition to the gap between the league that will be the basis for selection for, and the tournament itself, the bigger question is what will Misbah’s stance be on players that do well in the PSL but have already been tried and tested many a time. For instance, what happens if Ahmed Shehzad and Umar Akmal are near the top of the scoring charts for the PSL once again – as they so regularly are?
An equally pivotal question is with regards to the conditions in which the World T20 will be played. The inclusion of Mohammed Hafeez and Shoaib Malik in the Bangladesh series – wherein they both did decisively well – suggests that barring a completely bizarre, and equally unlikely, loss in form, the two would be shoo-in for the middle order in the World T20 squad.
But are they the right fits for the bouncy tracks in Australia? Malik, for instance, has a consistently dreadful record in Australia over the various phases of his playing career that last week touched its fourth decade.
Even so, for all intents and purposes, Babar Azam, Shoaib Malik and Mohammed Hafeez will be nailed on in the batting lineup for the World Cup. However, only Shaheen Afridi appears to be an automatic choice as far as the bowling is concerned. The rest of the positions are up for grabs.
Imad Wasim, for long considered as a potential captain for the limited-overs sides, isn’t quite as much a permanent selection as he has been in the past. Similarly Shadab Khan has been off the boil for over a year now, and only just returned to some sort of form against Bangladesh. Also, it is unlikely that Pakistan would go with two spinners – even with varying all-round ability – in Australia.
In a World T20 year, it was important for Pakistan to get their act together
Iftikhar Ahmed seemed to have made his way into the lower middle order with strong showings over the past couple of series, but he’s yet to cement his place. Mohammed Rizwan’s position in the T20I side is definitely under scrutiny, given misplaced calls to bring former captain Sarfaraz Ahmed back in the shortest format and perhaps more tellingly owing to the batting displays of Kamran Akmal.
We’ll continue to scrutinize the development of the pool of players, especially in the T20 format over the coming months. But what is evident is that the rebuilding process is truly underway, and spots are up for grabs across Pakistan’s T20I squad.