Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000
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Pakistan scored 193, a total well above par on a slow Sharjah surface, against Hong Kong on Friday night.
Normal service resumed as far as Mohammad Rizwan was concerned. He batted through despite struggling in the heat, scoring an unbeaten 78 off 57. The platform he and Fakhar Zaman (53 in 41) set meant Khushdil Shah could play with complete abandon, bludgeoning four sixes off the last four balls he faced in a 29-run over, propelling Pakistan to what was effectively an unassilable total. The bowlers followed up with fearsome ruthlessness, Mohammad Nawaz and Shadab Khan taking seven wickets between them for 13 runs as Hong Kong were skittled for 38. It was the lowest score against Pakistan in a T20I, and the 155-run win the biggest in Pakistani T20I history.
Everything went perfectly to plan.
And yet, the most exciting facet of the Pakistan performance wasn't what they did, but what they showed they were capable of. This was Pakistan's first T20I win this year. Incredible, but even more incredibly, this was only their third T20I in 2022.
There's little evidence much has changed since their entertaining run to the semi-finals at last year's T20 World Cup. With the next edition of that tournament just six weeks away, Pakistan look set to rock up in Australia as a side almost identical to the one that played the previous T20 World Cup. And not just in terms of personnel, but also in approach.
That has its advantages, particularly against sides that don't have the gifts Pakistan do in terms of batting or bowling. Like Hong Kong. But even as they bask in the joy of this crushing, record-breaking win, it doesn't take any deep analysis to work out the areas of their game more accomplished sides will look to exploit.
In this game, Pakistan's No. 4, Khushdil, came out only after 16.1 overs. Since the start of last year's World Cup, the top three have faced an average of 87 balls per innings - on Friday, they faced 106. They make most of the runs, as you might well expect - only 35 of Pakistan's 193 runs came off a bat that didn't belong to a top three batter. Their combined strike rate, though, was 132.07, while Khushdil, the only one outside the top three to face any deliveries at all, soared above at 233.33.
This was a typical Pakistan T20I innings. The top three have, since the start of the last World Cup, the largest negative variance between balls faced and runs scored, while the middle order has the highest strike rate in the world. The most productive players in the side, in other words, face fewer deliveries than their counterparts from any other side. By definition, that means Pakistan are leaving runs out there.
That might be a criticism, but it would be remarkable if no one in the Pakistan camp sees this as a massive opportunity. With the Hong Kong bowlers there for the taking at the death, Pakistan's most potent six-hitter had the chance to face just 15 deliveries, while the similarly prolific Iftikhar Ahmed, Shadab Khan and Asif Ali didn't get a look-in at all. Khushdil struck five sixes off the 15 balls he faced; the 106 balls the other three faced yielded just three. At the halfway mark, Pakistan had scored 64 for 1, with six fours and no sixes.
For the longest time, Pakistan's greatest T20 problem was the dearth of power hitting in their setup. The absence of personnel is something no coach, no data, no pep talk, can really overcome. But that problem has now long been put to bed, and the only shackles on this Pakistan batting line-up are self-imposed.
You learn more from your losses than from your wins, but if that were true, Pakistan might have rectified the issue following the inquest after the semi-final defeat to Australia at last year's T20 World Cup.
Now, with two days to go before they face India in the Super Four, Babar Azam's men have the opportunity to learn the same lesson, this time following a comprehensively glorious win.
That Pakistan don't have enough runs in their batting line-up is a myth. They do. They're just not scoring them. For Pakistan, and their supporters, what could be more exhilarating than that?