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Hassan Cheema

Pakistan are built to fail in T20

Their cricket culture, their selections and their approach to limited-overs cricket are all anachronistic

Hassan Cheema
Hassan Cheema
Sharjeel Khan and Mohammad Hafeez added 57 in partnership, Pakistan v Sri Lanka, 1st T20I, Dubai, December 11, 2013

Sharjeel Khan was bizarrely kept out of the T20 side for 26 months while Mohammad Hafeez, who has struggled in the format, remained in the side  •  AFP

Only three times in Pakistan's history have they gone six or more Test series unbeaten: six from 1973 to 1977, ten from 1985 to 1989, and seven from 2010 to 2012. Right now they have been unbeaten for five - both in terms of time and numbers theirs is the longest streak in the world right now. Their coach is the same one who instigated the 2010 to 2012 run: Waqar Younis.
One could argue he doesn't deserve a lot of credit for this, and that Younis Khan's batting, Misbah-ul-Haq's captaincy of spinners, and the rise of a new generation of Test specialists are the reasons behind this success.
But the facts are simple: when Waqar took over in 2010, Pakistan hadn't won a Test series for more than three years; when he took over in 2014, Pakistan hadn't won one in over two years. Within six months of him taking charge, these two streaks began.
But it's also a fact that when Waqar took over in 2014, Pakistan had won four of their previous five bilateral ODI series, and reached the final of the Asia Cup. Since then they have won three out of 11.
It's pretty obvious what Waqar is good at and isn't. There is no World T20 or World Cup for another three years, but Pakistan do have a difficult year of Test cricket ahead. Yet when they next take the field in whites, they will not have Waqar in the dressing room. His contract expires soon and his failures in coloured clothing are likely to prevent a renewal.
The same is likely to be true of the captain. In only three of the last 14 years have Pakistan had a positive win-loss record against the other top eight nations.
Quite simply Pakistan have been a below-average ODI team for a decade and a half. Remove the equally declining West Indies from among their list of opponents and there is only one year when Pakistan won more than half their games: 2011. Their success that year was sparked by a change in dressing-room culture, led by Misbah, Afridi and Waqar, and also by the fact that in a post-spot fixing world, they became a spin-dominant side.
Leading the charge was Shahid Afridi himself. From 2007 to 2011 he averaged 29 (with an economy rate of 4.4) in ODIs and 18.8 (6.1) in T20s.
Much like Imran Khan two generations before, the greatest weapon Afridi had was himself as a bowler. Since 2012, though, his numbers are abject - in ODIs, an average of 41.2 (with an economy rate of 4.8) and in T20s 30.7 with 7.0 runs per over. Afridi stagnated, the world caught up, Afridi declined, the world went past; Afridi is Pakistan.
Yet even through his peak he was never a particularly good T20 captain. When he was reappointed to the post in 2014 he owned the only negative record among Pakistani captains till that point. Unsurprisingly, in his second tenure Pakistan lost more than they won again. Afridi was made the T20 captain because he seemed like the sort Pakistan want, even if the numbers pointed to the contrary. As always, the numbers turned out to be right.
Sandwiched in the middle of Afridi's two tenures was Mohammad Hafeez.
Pakistanis of a certain ilk are fond of pointless stats, like the number of Man-of-the-Match awards an individual has won. Based on their logic the three greatest "match-winners" (another term they are fond of abusing) in Pakistan's history are, in descending order: Saeed Anwar, Hafeez and Afridi - for they have the best matches-to-MOTM ratio in the country's ODI history. Bizarrely, the same Pakistanis were the ones who were calling for Hafeez's head when the controversy about Hafeez not wanting to play alongside Mohammad Amir arose.
Pakistan can ill afford to lose Hafeez right now - his record since November 2014 (when he was reported for a suspect action and thus had to become a pure batsman) is terrific: a Test average of 75 and an ODI average in excess of 40. And yet, that has not changed him as a T20 batsman. In 24 of Pakistan's last 29 T20 internationals, he has crossed 30 twice. Perhaps his ODI and Test numbers kept him in the T20 side, or perhaps there was no alternative.
Hafeez's 24-match run of failure began in 2013 against Sri Lanka in Dubai. In that match, Sharjeel Khan scored 50 off 25 balls but wouldn't play another T20 international for another 26 months. Perhaps there always was an alternative.
There's a trend forming here. Pakistan appointed a T20 captain based on his ODI record from years past; their Test coach will be sacked due to his limited-overs record; they dropped Sharjeel, a T20 specialist, for his ODI record, and kept Hafeez, a long-format specialist, despite his consistent failures in T20 cricket. Pakistan continue to not understand how different formats work. They continue to think cricket is a uniform subject. Pakistan were built to fail in the World T20, and they duly did.
That's just the tip of the iceberg. Pakistan were travelling to India, not Australia as their squad composition - five pacers and no front-line spinner - seemed to suggest. As Afridi's record above shows, he is no longer that front-line spinner. Along with Afridi, Pakistan took Imad Wasim, Mohammad Nawaz and Shoaib Malik as spinners, all three more renowned for their batting than their bowling. Perhaps Nawaz can one day become a front-line spinner, but for that he will have to play in favourable conditions. That too didn't happen.
It's not as if the composition failures were restricted to just the bowling. Pakistan had only two "bangers" - real batsmen with T20 strike rates in excess of 130 (Sharjeel and Afridi); third on that list is Umar Akmal. Afridi decided that he had to bat up the order, because that's what captains are supposed to do apparently. Akmal batted up the order. The result was two failed chases because there was no firepower in the lower order. Why? Because the men playing there were originally supposed to bat in the top five. Pakistan struggled against spin throughout the tournament, and yet their best player of spin, Sarfraz Ahmed, did not play a single ball against slow bowling through the course of the tournament. Leading to the question once again - do Pakistan even understand how to use their resources?
Given that they come from a culture that doesn't give importance to fitness and professionalism, domestic pitches and balls that actively turn batsmen away from learning how to rotate strike, and two decades of underperformance, Pakistan need to punch above their weight to even compete. They are built to fail, and they fail consistently.
But instead of trying to diagnose these problems, what we get - what we always get - is pointless military lingo: factions and traitors, troops and unity, big hearts and bravery. So perhaps it's better to explain their situation in those terms: Pakistan build fighter jets using faulty equipment, and then decide to use these in urban warfare, while their guerrilla fighters are reserved for the trenches. And then they wonder why they have to surrender at the end of every war.

Hassan Cheema is a sports journalist, writer and commentator, and co-hosts the online cricket show Pace is Pace Yaar. @mediagag