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Pakistan’s Takeaways from the England’s T20 Series

CricViz analyst Freddie Wilde examines Pakistan’s takeaways from the T20 series. 

Pakistan are hesitant to back their young batsmen but were rewarded when they did

Pakistan are renowned for giving opportunities to their production line of talented young fast bowlers but this series illustrated their caution around doing the same with their young batsmen. The three most exciting batting developments from this year’s Pakistan Super League were Haider Ali, Khushdil Shah and Shadab Khan’s promotion up the order. As noted by Clive Azevedo on Twitter these three players were the three players with the best balls per six in the PSL of all those in Pakistan’s squad.

Yet despite six-hitting and power-hitting more generally being a clear weakness of this Pakistan side—as we noted in our series preview—it was not until the third T20 that any of these options were deployed with Haider finally selected and Shadab promoted to number five. 

Haider’s debut innings, 54 off 33 balls, is the highest score by a Pakistani player on T20 international debut and arguably the finest debut by a Pakistani T20 international batsman ever. He played with typical power and authority but his maturity and intelligence – helping recover after a wicket in the second over – was particularly impressive. Hopefully this is the start of a long and successful international career for one of cricket’s most exciting young talents.

Mohammad Hafeez’s evolution

Although this series demonstrated Pakistan’s reluctance to move towards a younger generation of batsmen the next 12 months leading up to the World Cup are likely to represent something of a battle between the old guard—Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik and Iftikhar Ahmed—and the likes of Haider, Khushdil and Shadab. 

With that in mind the performance of Hafeez in this series was particularly impressive. Hafeez—who is now being deployed in a middle order role—plundered 155 runs off just 88 balls – returning a total impact of +33, the best of all players in the series. Hafeez combined 360° scoring with genuine down the ground power and could provide a bridge between solid top order and a powerful lower order. 

Since the start of 2018 Hafeez has reinvented himself as a middle order batsman in T20 and this year he has really kicked on in the role—scoring 456 runs at a strike rate of 137 – his highest ever in a calendar year. This remains considerably below what the likes of Haider, Khushdil and Asif Ali may be capable of but does set him apart from Malik and Iftikhar – whose T20 international strike rate of 138 is well above his career strike rate of 118 and is likely to regress towards that across a larger sample size. 

Babar underlines the issues with anchor batsmen

Players such as Babar Azam—anchor batsmen—have value in T20 cricket. They often face a high number of balls, generally rotate the strike regularly and reliably and provide stability to their teams. However, high scoring series such as this one perfectly illustrate the drawbacks of such an approach. Babar batted twice in the series, scoring 56 off 44 in the second match and 21 off 18 in the third match. According to our Match Impact model both innings represented a negative contribution for Pakistan. The first innings ranked as -1 by our model and the second as -5. The issue with these kind of innings in high scoring matches is that the value of Babar’s stability can be outweighed by the cost of his slow scoring – in both instances he scored significantly more slowly than the match rate. 

It should be acknowledged that our Match Impact model quite possibly undervalues innings such as those from Babar because there are some potential benefits that may be hard – or perhaps impossible – to measure: most clearly the value that his stability provides to other batsmen who are emboldened to play more aggressively, but also his ability to perhaps keep out balls that might dismiss other players thanks to his superior technique, so too his ability to assess conditions and par scorers. However, even if we generously account for these benefits it is unlikely that either innings played by Babar represents anything more than a very small positive impact for his team.

Dan Weston made the excellent point on Twitter that anchor batsmen such as Babar are at their most valuable in teams that have a large number of power-hitters around them and, or possess a very strong bowling attack.

Currently Pakistan do not have the former and although Hafeez and Haider offer reason for optimism are unlikely to become this any time soon, and while they do have a strong bowling attack they were not at their best in this series and their effectiveness was stymied by excellent batting conditions. 

The role of anchor batsmen in T20 cricket are examined in detail in the paperback edition of Cricket 2.0: Inside the T20 Revolution – released on Thursday September 3rd. 

Pakistan’s tactical errors

England’s two most impactful innings of the series were Morgan’s 66 in the second T20 and Moeen’s 61 in the third T20. Both innings were marked by some questionable tactics from Pakistan, as noted by Alagappan Vijayakumar on Twitter. Vijayakumar pointed out that both Morgan and Moeen have demonstrated clear issues with high pace, short bowling across their careers but their two innings were marked by Pakistan’s relative reluctance to test them with these lengths.

Indeed, across Morgan’s innings Pakistan bowled just one short ball to him. Things were better against Moeen – they tested him with six short balls, but that still represented less than one third of the balls bowled to him by the quicks.

Babar’s tactical win

It would be unfair to only draw attention to the match-ups Pakistan failed to exploit because they also played to some quite nicely. They registered the easy win of bowling Imad to England’s right-handed openers in every match but in the first game they won a nice game of cat and mouse with England’s left-handers. Initially the pairing of Moeen and Morgan dissuaded Babar from bowling Imad—who spun the ball into them, but he responded by turning to his off spinner Iftikhar who spins the ball away from the lefties and he brought the wicket of Morgan. Moeen followed soon after, falling to a top-spinner from Shadab—this was a high stakes match-up that went the other way in the third T20 but was bold captaincy and clever bowling to avoid spinning the ball in.

This then brought to right-handers to the crease and allowed Imad to operate once more and he immediately removed the new man Gregory. It was only a small moment in an eventually abandoned match but it was a nice matchup win for Pakistan’s new white ball captain.   

Freddie Wilde is a CricViz analyst, @fwildecricket.

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