Is it really a World Cup if Pakistan have not lurched from crisis to catastrophe, and are not furiously mapping out probability trees, calculating net run rates, and praying that other teams help them sneak into the next round via the back door? Is it really a World Cup if Pakistan are not unpredictable, flawed and dispirited, and when rumours about infighting and leaks to the media aren’t flying around unfettered? Is it really a World Cup if Pakistan look this… good?
Eight days ago, Pakistan had ahead of them games against India, New Zealand and Afghanistan to kick off the tournament with interim head coaches, and batting and bowling consultants with negligible consulting experience. There was plenty of dark humour about Pakistan being eliminated by the time these games were done, but it almost rang too true to be amusing. Eight days on, India have been decimated by ten wickets and New Zealand and Afghanistan seen off with the sort of ruthless efficiency characteristic of serial winners. With qualification to the semi-finals virtually guaranteed, Pakistan can treat the upcoming games against Namibia and Scotland almost like bonus warm-up matches, the sort of luxury no Pakistan team would dream of basking in at this stage of a World Cup.
Pakistan, though, will be the first to recognise the danger of snapping out of this purple patch just as quickly as they’ve found themselves in it, so there’s little chance of a drop-off in intensity against Namibia. It might be an opportunity to rest one or two of the assets they want sharp for the semi-finals; Shaheen Afridi is perhaps the most compelling candidate. It might also be the time to test their bench strength, with Mohammad Nawaz and Haider Ali waiting in the wings should they be required. But now that Pakistan seem to have unearthed the formula to win T20 games once more, it might not ultimately matter which individual players line up against Namibia. It’s about the team, not individual superstars. How often, indeed, do you say that about Pakistan?
Namibia, meanwhile, aren’t there to be anyone’s sidekick. Very much still in the tournament and in contention for the semi-finals, Gerhard Erasmus’ side have played an eye-catching brand of T20 cricket that has seen them come further this tournament than most would have expected. They have a quality fast bowler in Ruben Trumpelmann, a slew of useful spinners, a solid-enough top order, and a superstar in David Wiese. Their successes haven’t been one-man shows; several of these players have stood up at various times to help them through the first round and then beat Scotland in the group. If they can catch Pakistan in a moment of complacency, they might just have the potential to put them under pressure, and in the past, Pakistan under pressure have found themselves doing some funny things.
Everyone’s eyes, though, will be firmly on Pakistan, suddenly among the mid-tournament favourites. Namibia, though, have a shot, and for now, that is all they can ask for.
Namibia: LWWWL (last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Perhaps no side is as familiar with David Wiese of late as Pakistan, given his exploits in the PSL over the past few seasons. Plying his trade with Lahore Qalandars, he has been among the shining stars of a struggling franchise. His exploits as finisher are already the stuff of legend, and what he achieved with the Qalandars has translated seamlessly into his form with Namibia. He has been his side’s highest scorer (142 runs), boasts their highest strike rate (135.23), and has the highest average (47.33) for all their players with more than 60 runs. Add to that his bowling capabilities, and it’s hard not to conclude that there are very few sides at this tournament Wiese would not get into. He’s very familiar with the opposition and the venue by dint of his PSL experience, which makes him one to watch.
Hasan Ali‘s bowling form is the one crease Pakistan will want to iron out. In what has been just about a perfect tournament for almost every other player, Hasan has struggled to find the lines and lengths, either in the middle overs or at the death that make him so lethal at his best. An 18th over that went for 21 let Afghanistan back into the game, and he conceded 44 in his four overs against India last Sunday. Less importantly, though perhaps pertinently in hindsight, he couldn’t defend 18 in the final over of the warm-up game against South Africa either. Add to that a worrying habit of bowling the odd no-ball – he has delivered four in his last two matches – and it’s hard not to conclude that things can only go up for Hasan in this tournament. He will hope Namibia is the starting point.
Despite a first defeat in four games against Afghanistan, Namibia are unlikely to tinker much with a fairly settled side.
Namibia (probable): 1 Craig Williams, 2 Michael van Lingen, 3 Jan Nicol Loftie-Eaton, 4 Gerhard Erasmus (capt), 5 Zane Green (wk), 6 David Wiese, 7 JJ Smit, 8 Jan Frylinck, 9 Pikky Ya France, 10 Ruben Trumpelmann, 11 Bernard Scholtz
Pakistan have no compunction to change their team, but with progress to the semi-finals virtually guaranteed, Pakistan could give some of their squad players a run out.
Pakistan (probable): 1 Babar Azam (capt), 2 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 3 Fakhar Zaman, 4 Mohammad Hafeez/Haider Ali, 5 Shoaib Malik, 6 Asif Ali, 7 Shadab Khan, 8 Imad Wasim, 9 Hasan Ali/Mohammad Nawaz, 10 Haris Rauf, 11 Shaheen Shah Afridi
Pitch and conditions
Pace has played a bigger role in Abu Dhabi than at the other venues, and the ground – which boasts the biggest playing area – has produced surprisingly low-scoring matches. It’s expected to be warm in the evening, with the possibility of dew always a factor.
Stats and trivia
- Pakistan last lost a T20I in Abu Dhabi nearly a decade ago, to England in February 2012. They have won their last five matches at this ground.
- Namibia have won 21 of their 27 T20Is, with a win percentage of 77.77. This is the highest of any nation to have played an ICC World Cup, and second overall, behind Romania’s 88.23% (15 wins in 17 matches).
Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000
More WBBL matches could move to primetime as viewership hits new records
The crowd for the final in Perth set a new benchmark for a standalone WBBL match
A WBBL final which brought a record crowd and record TV ratings could herald a shift towards more primetime matches in the future as the tournament looks to its next stage of evolution.
Perth Scorchers claimed the title on Saturday in front of 15,511 spectators at Optus Stadium which set a new benchmark for a standalone WBBL match. It also had the largest average broadcast audience in the competition’s history with 535,000 put it ahead of the 2018-19 final which was played ahead of a day of men’s Test cricket.
This was the first season where every match was available on television and overall CA said it was the most-watched edition. While Alistair Dobson, the general manager of Big Bash Leagues, believes the weekend festivals, which see multiple matches at the same venue, will continue to be an important part of the tournament there will be a push to exploit more evening time slots.
“Ultimately the ambition was of getting every game on TV and we were really thankful we could do that this year,” Dobson told ESPNcricinfo. “The next evolution is to optimise those blockbusters and there’s an opportunity for us to explore more primetime matches, whether that’s Thursday or Friday nights, and working with our broadcasters to build up some big annual marquee matches which I think is the obvious next step for the competition.”
The new finals structure, which gave the team who finished top of the regular season direct entry into the final, meant there was a week to promote the match in Perth.
“I think it worked exactly how we intended to give us a full week’s build-up but also rightfully rewarding the team that finished first with the biggest advantage which we felt was warranted,” Dobson said. “The atmosphere and noise just showed how passionate the fans are and think the quality of the game did it justice as well.
The season started in a Tasmania-based hub due to border restrictions in Australia and barring a brief lockdown in Hobart was played without significant problems although two major markets – Melbourne and Sydney – were unable to stage games.
“Firstly just being able to play and getting all eight teams together in Tasmania was no mean feat,” Dobson said. “But then the quality of the cricket throughout, the quality of the overseas players, it was amazing to have such a great group of Indian players, they brought a whole new dimension, alongside all the other players.
“Matched by the depth of talent in Australia, a lot of the really big household names were easily matched by a lot of players we are all getting to know a lot better.
“In reinforces the WBBL as the No.1 cricket league for women and it’s really important we maintain that position in the future.”
Recent Match Report – South Aust vs Queensland 10th Match 2021/22
Renshaw hammered 156 from 109 balls after Gurinder Sandhu’s hat-trick had restricted the home side
Queensland 4 for 275 (Renshaw 156*, Bryant 68) beat South Australia 274 (Carey 101, Sandhu 4-44) by six wickets
It was Queensland’s second win from four matches in the one-day competition this season, while South Australia are struggling with a 1-3 record.
In the mix to replace former captain Tim Paine as Australia’s Test gloveman at the Gabba next month, Carey had failed to reach double figures in any of his previous six innings for the Redbacks this season.
He made a patient start to his innings before blasting his second 50 in just 30 balls, charging to his second one-day century of the season. He smashed a huge slog-sweep six off Marnus Labuschagne but was eventually bowled by the part-time legspinner when attempting to cut a delivery that wasn’t quite as short as he had expected.
Queensland quick Sandhu finished with 4 for 44 from his nine overs, with Matt Kuhnemann also impressing as the final six South Australia wickets fell in the space of just 15 balls.
Like Carey, Travis Head was hoping to impress national selectors, but he was dropped twice before his luck ran out on 29, caught by Mark Steketee off Kuhnemann.
Queensland’s run chase began slowly and they were in trouble early when Test squad members Usman Khawaja and Labuschagne fell cheaply. Labuschagne departed in stunning fashion when he was run out by Hunt’s direct hit from a tough angle.
But Renshaw’s composed knock steered the Bulls home. Featuring 15 fours and five sixes, his century came from 91 balls with his third fifty taking just 16 deliveries as he plundered Wes Agar.
Abu Dhabi T10, 2021 – Phil Salt, Tom Banton show off their credentials
Across a weekend of triple-headers, there has been an exhibition of opening batting on display
Across a weekend of triple-headers at the Abu Dhabi T10, there has been an exhibition of opening batting on display. No doubt, the shorter boundaries have helped, especially in a format whereby the risk of losing a wicket is also considerably less.
If there was any doubt as to whether the injury could have affected him, Salt erased it instantly. In the first over of the chase, he blasted 21 runs off the five deliveries he faced, clipping away his first and last ball from Nuwan Pradeep to the boundary, and smashing two sixes in between.
In a tournament with some of the biggest names in world cricket, Salt has been one of the standout players. The game he was injured in and the game he missed subsequently have been the only two games that Team Abu Dhabi have lost this season.
Amongst anyone who has scored at least 100 runs in the Abu Dhabi T10, no batter possesses a better strike rate than Salt. In fact, no one has scored more boundaries than his 17 fours and 21 sixes.
“Something you do when you’re playing well is that you pick your areas based on instinct” Salt said. “Chris Gayle, I’ve chewed his ear off. He’s got so many tools that I want to add to my game… The most impressive thing and a few guys have it, is that ruthless mentality that someone like Chris has, in the way he takes the game on.
“If I can just keep tapping into things like that, the biggest improvements to be made and the lessons to be learnt are from those guys, in terms of how they deal with the game upstairs.”
Asked where he sees himself across formats domestically and internationally, Salt said: “It’s something I used to struggle with, really wanting to get on to the next stage. I still do want it just as bad, but I’m very aware now that the only way to get there is to take it day by day by day. I know that’s a really boring answer, but I’ve found that’s the most effective way to improve and not get ahead of myself.”
Salt’s tale bears a hint of similarity with that of Banton, whose unbeaten 46 against Delhi Bulls included seven fours and two sixes. Two players brimming with talent, with aspirations to regularly represent their country, yet coming to an understanding with their opportunities and their experiences thus far, that ultimately it is something that will find its way, rather than something that can be chased.
Whilst Salt made his international bow in perhaps fortuitous circumstances with three ODIs against Pakistan, Banton was unfortunately part of the England playing group that was forced to isolate before that series.
Banton was the breakout star of 2019 and an England call-up followed – he was part of Eoin Morgan’s white-ball set-up for the best part of a year between November 2019 and September 2020 – yet bubble life and quarantine took its toll on him.
A blistering 47-ball century in the T20 Blast against Kent served as a reminder of his ability, but a second-ball duck in the final against the same opposition summed up a somewhat disappointing and challenging year in which he was also released by Kolkata Knight Riders.
“I had quite a big break. For the whole of October, I didn’t play any cricket – nothing whatsoever. I just lived a social life and saw a lot of friends and family, which I felt was quite important, and now I feel like I’m enjoying it again,” said Banton.
“I’d love to get back in the squad but I’m not going to put too much pressure on myself to be there next year. I just want to enjoy my cricket and I think if you’re in that headspace, the rest will take care of itself.”
For the pair of them, knowing that Morgan is around, will no doubt add some extra motivation as the Abu Dhabi T10 enters its final week.
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