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ICC2021 T20WC: The miracle it has been

Hasan Ali celebrates a wicket
Hasan Ali celebrates a wicket
©ICC
 

If asked to comment about their national side’s performance at the ongoing ICC 2021 T20 WC, an average Pakistani cricket fan’s reply would be “weird”, “unreal”, “surprising” or the likes of it. They are happy, have no doubts about that, but why this element of surprise? Why not jubilant or jovial instead? especially keeping in mind two very recent home series cancellations by top international sides. Answer lies in the supposed exultation of their past WC memories.

Pakistan’s usual itinerary at any big stage almost always includes a painfully pitiful loss against India. Another regular is their nightmarish gruelling run chases; with them starting out confidently and ending atrociously or vice versa, resulting in either a win or a loss but by a whisker; the chase against Afghanistan being one example but enough to ensure arrythmias or stress attacks in the audience.

Then, there has to be that one incredible game where Team Green’s unpredictability pays off, a liability for most yet for them an asset – enabling them to defeat at-least one top-tier squad in a domineering fashion during the group stages. Their games against South Africa in 2015 and England in 2019 are some reminders.

And this is exactly why their display at ICC T20 WC 2021 has been unique. Events on 24th October 2021 has left a ripple of confusion in the nation. They know what to do after a defeat to India, it comes naturally to them, almost second nature; go about the business as if nothing has happened. But the ensuing relief and glory after a victory against one of the strongest Indian sides. Practically alien. Then the usual twist in the road, the unneeded loss which never occurred. A miraculous 5/5 straight victories.

But how? This success, however, is no accident. It’s been in the works for a few years now. The first reason:

Babar and Rizwan

In this tournament, no batting pair has proven to be more startling, threatening, and terrifying for the opponent than Babar Azam and Rizwan. A dynamic duo the likes of the cricketing world has never seen. They are essentially the backbone of their squad. Their feats individually, as well as a pair, are unmatched.

They are the first to achieve 1000 runs partnership in a calendar year. In Pakistan’s opening game against India, they not only gave Pakistan their first ever 10 wicket victory in T20I, but it was also the highest partnership in T20 WC history. They also have the most 100+ opening stands at 5 for any pair in T20I.

On one end we have a chirpy, energizing, restless Rizwan and on the other a composed, controlled, elegant Babar. Summed up perfectly by their batting coach, Mathew Hayden, “they are unique in their own ways but blend perfectly well”.

As individuals, they are T20 warriors. Whilst Babar was a pro at the format from the beginning, Rizwan’s rise over the course of 2021 has been quite phenomenal. Both men have centuries in all formats and hold the top spots for most T20I runs in 2021. Their antics so far at the WC has led Rizwan to surpass Kohli for the highest batting average in the format and Babar has become the first Pakistani to grab the 1st place in both ODI and T20 ICC Ranking.

This tournament is a sinister, pernicious foreshadowing for other sides in the years to come. For Pakistani fans, however, the following decade offers tales of glory and triumph with Babar and Rizwan having many years left in their tank

You may remember how Bab-Riz as the first reason for Pakistan’s triumphs. But how about a second?

Asif Ali: Remember the name

His story is one filled with chapters of tragedy and misfortune. He has been subjugated to much criticism and scorn at the hands of the media and fans alike. Before this tournament the local press called him an ‘enigma’ – one who sizzles at domestic level and fizzles internationally.

During his tenure at the WC 2019, possibly the roughest patch in his life, he was made a scapegoat by incensed cricketing experts. Every single time he was included, his selection raised questions.

But all those doubts have been squashed for good after Asif’s heroics in UAE. He’s got the highest strike rate for any batter in the tournament. The manner in which he closed the game versus both Afghanistan and New Zealand was Dhoni-esque. His four sixes in the penultimate over seemed to be a redolent of Braithwaite’s four sixes in the final of the last edition. As Ben Stokes coined, ‘remember the name’.

It’s safe to say his marvels with the bat has given him enough solace to recover from the merciless agony inflicted by the previous decade. His brusqueness in dealing with the opposition has won him the hearts of millions – ‘crores’. Plus, he’s been voted ICC player of the month for October 2021 as I write.

Now that you have remembered ‘the name’ and reason number 2, who else could be reason number three but:

Shaheen and Haris

What really sets Pakistan apart from other contingents in this WC is their pace attack, one which set the momentum right from the start. Shaheen’s lethal yorker to Rohit Sharma is arguably this tournament’s most valuable wicket. Moreover, Haris Rauf’s economical bowling arguably supported Pakistan in restricting India to just 151.

Moreover, Haris Rauf and Shaheen have also been alarmingly quick, shooting balls at over 150 kph in the tournament. In addition to clocking the swiftest delivery at 153 kph, Haris so far also holds the record for throwing most balls at 90-plus mph in the event.

In fact, Shaheen as of recent has become a national icon, whereas Haris Rauf’s electric spell against New Zealand has earned him collective respect not to mention apologies from Pakistani fans across social media platforms.

The above-mentioned as well as the whole team coming together as a formidable unit, with the veterans coming of age and the young guns rising to the occasion, they surely are the side to watch because at the moment, the only hurdle in their way is their own unpredictable self.

It is hoped that Pakistan’s bowling anchors in Shaheen and Haris, backed by Hasan Ali, attack the opponents with the same ferocity and vim and that their world-class batters pull off another historic performance against Australia to secure their country a spot in the ICC2021 T20 World Cup final over the coming weekend.

This article is written by Fasih Taqvi, currently an A-levels student at Froebel’s International School, Islamabad, Pakistan.