Pakistan wicketkeeper and vice-captain Mohammad Rizwan downplayed concerns over the strike rate of Pakistan's top order in T20I cricket, insisting Babar Azam and Rizwan himself were both comfortable with their contributions to the side. In a virtual press conference, he also said Pakistan were confident of giving England a tough fight because Pakistan were coming off the back of five successive series wins.
"We've never felt an issue with Babar's strike rate," Rizwan said. "When he goes big he generally has a strike rate over 140. People talk about our strike rate but do remember we chased down 200, just the two of us, so our strike rate can't be that bad. There was an issue with the middle order, but we have more personnel coming in, so hopefully that should be resolved now."
Rizwan, who recently captained Multan Sultans to the PSL title, has been in a rich vein of T20 form over the past six months. Ever since a match-winning 89 in the third T20I in Napier last year, he has scored 619 runs in 11 innings, comfortably greater than any other international cricketer during this period. He has carried his bat in five of his last ten T20I knocks, averaging 103.16. That all of this has come at a strike rate of 142.95 has been an astonishing career turnaround for a player widely considered ill-suited to the shortest format.
However, with Azam opening besides him, there have been concerns Pakistan lack natural firepower at the top, especially with the Pakistan captain struggling to tee off despite formidable numbers as an accumulator. His strike rate sits at 128.26, and with Fakhar Zaman, Sharjeel Khan and Sohaib Maqsood all available to the side, there are questions about how exactly Pakistan intend to take advantage of their big-hitting prowess.
Rizwan, however, framed any issues Pakistan had as those which lay in the middle order, providing the clearest indication yet that Maqsood is unlikely to bat in the top three, something he told ESPNcricinfo he wishes to do.
"We don't have any issue in the top order. We're all settled in our positions, and the only problems we had were in our middle order. If you look at Maqsood in the Karachi leg, he played lower down, and he plays lower down in domestic cricket too. The calibre of player he is, he can easily adjust to any position. When it comes to me or Babar changing our position for the sake of the team, we will of course be ready to sacrifice."
Rizwan also dismissed suggestions he was angling after the captaincy in any format, praising Azam as a "world-class skipper", and saying he simply enjoyed the feeling of being considered a valuable player in the current side.
"I don't think about captaincy, because my job is to focus as a player," he said. "I have never been desperate for captaincy. I'm the vice-captain, and whenever the captain needs help, I am happy to do it. Babar is one of the leading captains right now, and if you look at our past series, he's made some brilliant decisions. Even if three or four players put our heads together, his clarity of thought rose above it all.
"I don't feel pressure this way, and I enjoy my importance to the team. I relish the fact I am considered one of the main players of the team."
Rizwan backed his side to give a good account of themselves in England, a place he believes Pakistan tend to play well. "We have played well in England over history. "We have won home and away off late so we go in with a lot of confidence. If you look at the touch our top players are going into this series with, we'll plug our weaknesses and you'll find a very different side in a good way. It'll be a good contest because our morale is very high too."
Pakistan play three ODIs starting at Sophia Gardens on July 8, before competing in as many T20Is, with the first taking place at Trent Bridge on July 16.
Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000