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At the midway point against Bangladesh, Pakistan's task was looking tricky but Imran Nazir's explosive innings quickly put paid to any nerves
September 25, 2012
When Dav Whatmore took over as coach of Pakistan with the World Twenty20 already on the horizon, two years had passed since Imran Nazir had last played for his country. He was the player who would seemingly remain immature forever, an avid collector of rash dismissals, the sort of player who a new coach might be reluctant to put his faith in.
Whatmore, like most good coaches, favoured talent, and his ability to harness it, and the selectors delivered by recalling Nazir after good form in domestic T20 tournaments around the world.
Nazir was again dismissed in maddening fashion again on this occasion, but by then he had made 72 in a twinkle of an eye, an inspirational knock which assured Pakistan of victory and sent Bangladesh back home in the process.
Bangladesh, in their two matches, have not been impressive. They have bowled a bit like Nazir has too often batted - with a lack of sense. In the first match, they were obsessed by spin and lost to New Zealand; this time they were obsessed with their fast bowlers banging the ball halfway down and lost to Pakistan. They had just one tactic a game, the second entirely opposite to the first. Nobody seemed to recognise that a bit of variation might be worth trying.
Pakistan, in theory, had a quandary at the midway stage. Bangladesh had set them 176 to win, which even on a batting surface as good as this does not take much undershooting, but they only needed 140 to qualify. But to put the emphasis on qualification first, victory later, would have risked losing to Bangladesh for the first time since 1999.
To qualify and lose would have been a thought process entirely at odds with Pakistan's cavalier T20 approach. With Nazir opening the innings, the entire debate about whether to begin conservatively and reassess later was a waste of breath. Far better just to go out there and hammer the ball to all parts.
The last four balls of the fourth over settled the match. Shafiul Islam conceded 19, five wides and 14 for Nazir - a a club over mid-off as he freed his front leg, a pull behind square and a six over midwicket. At 43 without loss, Pakistan were in command.
Mohammad Hafeez, Pakistan's captain, said: "In the dug out we didn't discuss anything about 140. We just went out to win the game. We knew that we would chase whatever target we faced. Our bowlers couldn't bowl well - they were a little bit short - but after that we came out with a positive attitude. Imran was exceptional tonight. He is at his best in T20.
"It was great to see someone playing this kind of innings when chasing. He is a very talented player, there's no doubt about that. But sometimes he has a rush of blood. What I normally do is give him my thoughts, but I don't stop him from doing what he wants. Sometimes I tell him, we've got two boundaries in an over already, so there's no need to try for a third one. I think he listens to me. It's great to see him respond like I want."
|Some people may have thought this was my last chance but I didn't look at it that way. I know the ability I have and the hard work I put in Imran Nazir on his return to the team|
Nazir has been known to blame his inability to progress on the fact that he made his Pakistan debut at 18, as if being selected for the first time at an early age had somehow locked him into a lifetime of misjudgment. It is a curious theory: perhaps if you are the sort of cook who burns toast it is because you were taught cooking at a far too early age. Or maybe you first caught a bus at five years old so for the rest of your life you keep getting off at the wrong stop.
Whatmore, though, pondered an approaching World Twenty20 and rightly concluded that Nazir had to return. The coach was given little encouragement against Australia in Dubai where Nazir made 22, 0 and 1. Even as he walked off against Bangladesh, slapping a tennis shot to long off, it was not hard to find a pundit willing to wager that it would be his one good innings of the tournament. This time it could be a dangerous bet.
Judging by the amount of time Whatmore spent debating with Nazir at a training session ahead of the game, he expects rather more. At 31, he represents Nazir's last chance, a coach who provides young players with the chance to develop in a supportive atmosphere. As Nazir still seems to think he is 18 - "it still feels as if I am making my debut," he said - it might be just what he needs.
"I have the support of many people back home and most importantly of the captain and the coach," he said. "Some people may have thought this was my last chance but I didn't look at it that way. I know the ability I have and the hard work I put in. I am such a fan of cricket and playing cricket, I don't think about whether I'll get a chance tomorrow or not. I just play. Whether I perform well or not is up to God."
Nazir's 72 took only 36 balls with 12 of them hit for boundaries, but even at a rate of two-a-ball, he could state, entirely straight-faced: "In one way this is my best innings, because I used my brains. I took the ones and twos instead of trying to hit from the word go. In 20 overs you can't hit each and every ball for four or six. All my well-wishers tell me that if I stay at the crease for 15 overs the runs will automatically come. I'm just trying to do that."
The Super Eight stage has thrown up a curiosity. All the teams which have won two matches are in one group, all the teams which have won one are in another.
But if you want travelling supporters to come to matches, and help to fill the stadiums, they need to book tickets and accommodation in advance and know where their teams are playing. Some sort of pre-planning is essential. To debate otherwise is to put statistics above pleasure. The top two of each group have qualified, get on with the fun.
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