Pakistan’s hopes of creating some welcome momentum heading into two big tournaments in cricket’s most explosive format, and two scheduled matches against their fiercest rivals, have now gone by the wayside. When Pakistan’s Twenty20 side steps onto the field in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka to take on India on Feb. 27, they will have won just one of their last six matches in the 20-over format.
It has hardly been ideal preparation. After suffering a whitewash in a home series against England in the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan made a positive start in New Zealand, winning the opening Twenty20 international by 16 runs. But things then went very badly, very quickly. Crushing defeats by 10 wickets and 95 runs followed to leave Pakistan and captain Shahid Afridi needing to pick up the pieces in a hurry. Just a couple of weeks after the climax of the Asia Cup, the World T20, in which India will also be a group-stage opponent, will get underway. Yet former captain Younis Khan does not believe that rash decisions will provide the answers.
“The team management is supposed to give confidence and encouragement to every player,” he told Pakistan network Geo Super Channel. “Dropping one or two players after a defeat wouldn’t make a difference. [Rather] there is a need to give respect to players. It is time we stop this culture of blaming each other after every defeat. The team just needs someone to give them confidence, that is all.”
Pakistan’s struggles in Twenty20 cricket are nothing new. Runners-up in the inaugural World T20 in 2007 and winners of the second event two years later, Pakistan have not been back to a final since. In 2014 they were sent packing from the competition after the group stage. They currently sit seventh in the International Cricket Council’s rankings and have only one player, Afridi, in the top 10 of either the batsman or bowler rankings.
It is surely no coincidence that Pakistan’s decline has coincided with their country’s players being prevented from competing in the world’s premier franchise-based T20 competition, the Indian Premier League, since the end of its first season in 2008.
The Pakistan Cricket Board will hope that the Pakistan Super League, which gets underway on Thursday, will help to fill that void. Certainly Afridi, who will captain one of the franchises, believes exclusion from the IPL has come at a cost
“The environment of such a league, when you hang out with great players from around the world, when a young guy goes there, he has these great facilities, shares a dressing room with great players and coaches, makes a huge difference,” he told United Arab Emirates publication The National.
“New guys, new talent could have gotten opportunities there. They would have learnt a lot and financially it would really have helped them out. They would’ve improved playing in tough situations, playing more cricket, under pressure, with massive crowds backing them or jeering them. That makes a player.”
Immediate results will be necessary if Pakistan are going to make their mark in the coming weeks. As well as India, Pakistan will go head-to-head with Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and a yet to be determined qualifier at the Asia Cup in Bangladesh. At the World T20, their task is an unenviable one, facing a group containing hosts India, Australia and New Zealand, as well as one from Bangladesh, the Netherlands, Ireland and Oman.
Pakistan T20 schedule
Asia Cup (all matches begin at 8:30 a.m. EST)
Feb. 27: vs. India at Shere Bangla National Stadium, Mirpur
Feb. 29: vs. TBD qualifier at Shere Bangla National Stadium, Mirpur
March 2: vs. Bangladesh at Shere Bangla National Stadium, Mirpur
March 4: vs. Sri Lanka at Shere Bangla National Stadium, Mirpur
March 12: vs. opponent to be confirmed at Eden Gardens, Kolkata
March 14: vs. Sri Lanka at Eden Gardens, Kolkata
World T20 (all times TBC)
March 16: vs. TBD qualifier at Eden Gardens, Kolkata
March 19: vs. India at Himachai Pradesh Cricket Association Stadium, Dharamsala
March 22: vs. New Zealand at Punjab Cricket Association Stadium, Mohali
March 25: vs. Australia at Punjab Cricket Association Stadium, Mohali