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Steady on the top

Under the inspiring leadership of Sarfraz, Pakistan continue to be the best in the shortest format of cricket

Steady on the top

In the last few years, Pakistan have improved their performance, especially in Twenty20 format. Since March 2017, Pakistan have played 23 T20 Internationals, won 19 and lost just four. Pakistan won the tri-nation T20 International tournament in Zimbabwe, beating Australia in the final by six wickets. Pakistan chased record 183 runs. Their previous best was 178 against Bangladesh in 2012. Pakistan are the first team to win 10 successive matches while chasing in T20Is. England and Australia won eight consecutive games in 2010-2011 and 2016-2018, respectively. With the tri-series win Pakistan maintained their top position in the T20 rankings with 132 points. India and Australia have 124 and 122 points, respectively. Young guns made the difference. Pakistani bowlers bowled superbly, taking wickets regularly. Their average of 18.39 was the best of the three teams. In the last two years, Pakistani bowlers conceded around seven runs per over. Nine of the top 11 teams have conceded over eight runs an over. Improved ground fielding and catching also played an important role in Pakistan’s success. Pakistani batting lineup, consisting of mostly young players, fully supported their bowlers. Fakhar Zaman, Babar Azam, Asif Ali, Husain Talat and most experienced Shoaib Malik have been performing consistently. Fakhar’s career-best 91 not only helped Pakistan win the final but also took him from 44th to 2nd in the T20 batsmen ranking. Fakhar’s 91 off 46 balls is the highest individual score in any T20 international final. Fakhar also became Pakistan’s first batsman to score 500 T20I runs in a calendar year. He has so far scored 516 runs. Only two players have scored more runs than Fakhar in a year: Virat Kohli (641) and Mohammad Shahzad (520), both in 2010. Pakistan are scheduled to play at least six more T20Is this year and Fakhar has the opportunity to beat the two by scoring 126 more runs. In the tri-nation series, Fakhar scored 278 runs in five matches: the most by a Pakistani batsman in a tournament or series. He was only 41 runs short of Kohli’s world record of 319 in a tournament, which he created in the 2014 World T20. Veteran batsman Malik played an anchor’s role. He has played 103 matches for Pakistan in this format, the highest for the country. He is the third highest run-getter in the shortest format with 2121 runs, averaging 32.13. Only New Zealand’s Martin Guptill (2271) and Brendon McCullum (2140) are ahead of him. Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed is also soaring higher and higher. Under his leadership, Pakistan have won nine T20I series in a row. They beat England 1-0, whitewashed West Indies 3-0, again beat West Indies, this time 3-1, World XI by 2-1, whitewashed Sri Lanka 3-0, beat New Zealand 2-1, whitewashed West Indies and Scotland and the tri-series last week. Sarfraz now has 21 wins under his belt, two more than Afridi’s. But Afridi’s 19 wins came from 43 matches. Sarfraz’s 21 have came from just 23 games. Former Indian captain MS Dhoni is the most successful captain in T20Is with 41 wins in 72 matches, with a win percentage of 69.28. But Sarfraz has a higher percentage of 84. Afghanistan skipper Asghar Stanikzai is the only T20 captain close to Sarfraz’s record. He has 32 wins from 41 matches — a success rate of 78 percent. Sarfraz was given the Twenty20 captaincy after a terrible 2016 World T20 performance when Shahid Afridi was sacked. Former England batsman Geoffrey Boycott has appreciated Sarfraz’s performance, saying: “Sarfraz Ahmed is cocky, confident and is up for the challenge. He’s the best wicketkeeper-batsman I’ve seen for Pakistan since Rashid Latif.” Sarfraz also impressed former West Indian pacer Michael Holding who said: “Sarfraz Ahmed is a brave cricketer. I have a lot of respect for him and not just for his wicket-keeping but his batting also.” In One-day Internationals, too, he has done well, winning ODI series against the West Indies in the Caribbean. After that he led Pakistan to the historic Champions Trophy win in England, which was followed by a 5-0 whitewash of Sri Lanka. In their first match in the tri-series against hosts Zimbabwe, Australian captain Aaron Finch hit highest T20I individual score of 172, off 76 balls, hitting 16 fours and 10 sixes. Finch bettered his own record of 156 that he scored against England in 2013. After achieving the top position in T20, Sarfraz should concentrate on ODIs and Tests as Pakistan are fifth and seventh, respectively, in these formats. The Green-shirts were number one Test team when Misbah and company beat England on their soil in 2016. Young players have potential to take Pakistan on top in all formats of the game. They just need proper coaching, motivation and temperament to beat any side in the world.   [email protected]

Khurram Mahmood

Sports Khurram Mahmood

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