Will in-form or flat Pakistan show up at World T20?
Unpredictability is the defining feature of the Pakistan team, but you still can't shun the thought that they are one of the compelling sides in the format. Their notoriety for inconsistent performances was on show during their warm-up games: they botched a mild chase of 111 against England right after succeeding in chasing down 186 - a rare sparkling chase against India.
Pakistan are always surrounded by off-the-field issues but presently things are relatively stable, which bodes well for the creation of a positive team atmosphere under a new captain, Mohamamd Hafeez, who has succeeded Misbah-ul-Haq. Although Hafeez's Twenty20 form doesn't warrant him an automatic place in the side, the PCB has taken a decision largely in the best interests of the team, deeming the allrounder a sensible leader in the longer-run. He has so far led Pakistan in five matches, losing two and winning three, including a Super Over victory against Australia in Dubai earlier this month.
Pakistan enter the event as the world's most experienced side in the format, having played most number of matches - 58 - winning 34 and losing 22 with two tied matches. They were the explosive starters in T20 cricket but have lost momentum since 2010, playing 22 matches and losing 11. In a bid to pick up momentum, the selectors have picked the country's potent and hugely experienced Twenty20 specialists for the job.
The squad is flexible enough to accommodate three explosive specialist openers in the top order, namely Imran Nazir, Nasir Jamshed and Kamran Akmal, followed by a mixture of skilful youngsters in Umar Akmal and Asad Shafiq and experienced men in Shoaib Malik, Abdul Razzaq and Shahid Afridi, to guard the middle-order. And they have an agile bowling line-up, strengthened by the return of Umar Gul - he is back at the World T20 after missing the previous event in the West Indies.
Pakistan enter the tournament with the entire squad having accumulated ample practice in Sri Lanka. Pakistan had a full series against the hosts earlier this year and, later, players from the T20 squad featured in the Sri Lanka Premier League.
The Pakistan bowlers have been dominating the T20 format, occupying the first three spots in the list of leading wicket-takers, with Saeed Ajmal leading the chart with 60 wickets followed by Shahid Afridi, 59, and Umar Gul with 58. The linchpin will be Ajmal, who has an exceptional economy rate of 6.03 in the format. He will be out to further stamp his authority as the world's best bowler. His control over his spin and clever variations of his doosra certainly make him dangerous. Pakistan, expectedly, will look to capitalise on more spin options with Ajmal having a significant role to play in the coming days.
Pakistan have recently unleashed a 20-year-old rookie left-arm spinner: Raza Hasan, largely known as a death bowler, averaging 13.65 in 22 matches with 40 wickets. He is not a big turner of the ball but his fearless approach and decent variation contain the run rate and made him a prominent bowler on the Pakistan domestic circuit. He was first noticed in 2010 when Pakistan called him up for the tour of England, but he didn't get a game. His wares were finally on show earlier this month in the three-match T20 series against Australia in Dubai. He is perhaps unlikely to play in every game but he has a definite future with the team.
If the script runs correctly, you will barely find any flaws within the Pakistan set-up, but if not, the fragile batting could be rattled. Ensuring a blistering start through the openers is a problem, as Mohamamd Hafeez takes his time to settle in, while Imran Nazir is cautions at the crease these days. The lost form of Afridi is another definite blow for Pakistan and there is obviously a concern over the allrounder.
World T20 history
Pakistan have an impressive record in the World Twenty20 and their pedigree has been remarkable in the three editions so far. They have been the best side in tournament's brief history. Had Misbah-ul-Haq not skied the paddle-scope to fine-leg in the 2007 final against India, Pakistan could have won the inaugural tournament. In 2009, Pakistan, led by Younis Khan thrashed Sri Lanka to lift the title. Pakistan were once again on course for another title in the Caribbean in 2010 but were undone by Australia's Michael Hussey's heroics in the semi-final in Saeed Ajmal's final over. Their win-loss tally in World Twenty20 is 12 victories to eight defeats, including the bowl-out loss against India.
Pakistan landed in Sri Lanka after intense preparation in a three-match ODI and three-match T20I series in the Dubai against Australia in the exhausting heat of the desert. Pakistan lost the ODI series but went on to win the T20I series 2-1.
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent