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Kirsten's warning to Pakistan's senior pros: evolve or get left behind

"Up to them to decide how they're going to take their games forward," says coach after India defeat

Gary Kirsten has issued a stark warning to his players that they face being left behind by the modern game if they don't improve, as the repercussions after two straight losses in the T20 World Cup 2024 begin.
Pakistan lost to India in New York on Sunday in a tight game, failing to chase a target of 120. That, coupled with a shock Super Over loss to USA in their opening game in Dallas last week, means their chances of progressing to the Super Eight are already out of their own hands. For Kirsten, who began officially as Pakistan's white-ball coach a week before the tournament began, the start could not have been any rockier.
Asked after the loss to India whether the team had put themselves under too much pressure, Kirsten agreed.
"You are pretty much spot-on," he said. "These guys are all international players and they're aware that when they're not performing at their best that there's going to be pressure put on them. That's understandable, but a lot of these guys have played a lot of T20 cricket around the world over many, many years and it's really up to them to decide how they're going to take their games forward."
Kirsten didn't take names, but Pakistan have retained a strong T20 core through the last three World Cup campaigns now. Seven of the XI that played in New York against India were part of the team that lost the semi-final to Australia in November 2021. Six from yesterday's XI were in the side that lost to England in the final a year later at the MCG.
The scrutiny will fall on the captain Babar Azam and his opening partner Mohammad Rizwan, each of whom have top-scored in the two games but with innings that divided opinion for their strike rate and notable lack of intent. Their approach has been consistent through the three campaigns and though Pakistan experimented with the opening partnership in the run-up to the event, Kirsten said there was "concern around how we can put our innings together and structure it".
Fakhar Zaman, Shadab Khan, Shaheen Afridi and Haris Rauf have also been part of both previous campaigns and though the bowling has mostly held up its end of the bargain - and came in for praise from Kirsten yesterday - the decline in Shadab's legspin has hurt Pakistan.
"A lot of these guys have played a lot of T20 cricket around the world over many, many years and it's really up to them to decide how they're going to take their games forward."
Pakistan coach Gary Kirsten
Kirsten acknowledged that he still needed time to take better stock of the situation but was clear that players needed to evolve as the format did.
"As I said, I've only been here a handful of days. I'm having a look into the environment and looking at what the issues are. I look at these players, I've watched them play many, many years on TV and kind of getting to know them, they're fantastic guys. They're playing for their country, so they really are pumped. I mean, there's a lot of very disappointed guys in the change room now.
"I think for me the most important thing for every international player is that you continue growing and developing as a player, and understanding what the demands of international competition are. The game is changing pretty much every year. So, if you're not up to it and you're not improving, you're going to get found out somewhere."
Former captain Wasim Akram, who was commentating on the game, went further and called for a clear-out from the current team. Though Akram did not take names, he said the nature of the defeat meant somebody had to "bell the cat now".
"Enough is enough. We need changes now. Bring in a new team, six to seven players and then back them through losses so they can develop as a team. It's time for the PCB chairman to take a bold step. We keep hearing [of the team] that this guy isn't talking to that guy, or that guy isn't talking to him. This was the best New York pitch so far, it wasn't that difficult. How difficult was it to chase 120?
"After this performance I don't think Pakistan deserve to go into the Super Eight."
Shahid Afridi, another former captain, was also far from pleased with what he saw. "The Pakistan batting line-up simply isn't clicking and what we saw was a weak display of power hitting," Afridi wrote in his column for the ICC. "For several reasons, this game [against India] wasn't about playing aggressively. But strategy and smart cricket were required to get the run chase over the line, and those qualities are exactly what Pakistan lacked.
"I think now is the time for Gary Kirsten and Babar Azam to make some changes. I would like to see Salman Ali Agha [he is not part of the T20 World Cup squad] come into the side in place of Usman Khan and Abrar Ahmed to come in for Shadab Khan.
"Most of all, I believe Fakhar Zaman should be promoted to open the innings alongside Mohammad Rizwan, with Babar dropping down to number three.
"There are some tough conversations and choices to come but we need to remember that there is still hope: Pakistan are not out of the tournament yet."