Pakistan head coach Misbah-ul-Haq admitted Pakistan were no closer to resolving their middle-order woes, days after they were beaten 2-1 by Englandin their recent T20I series. Speaking from Barbados, where Pakistan begin a five-match T20I series against the West Indies on July 27, Misbah said every game was vital as they build towards the T20 World Cup, to be held in the UAE in October.
"We are close to finding out our final combination," Misbah said, at a virtual press conference. "We still have the same problems, that our middle order isn't performing the way our top order is. We know 8-9 players of our playing XI as well as their replacements.
"We have to view every game as important and improve our performance. England were a top team in difficult conditions, but we have to look at a roadmap for improvement. Of course, losses shatter your confidence, and we just have to try and build it back."
Over the past year, Pakistan appear to have settled on an opening combination of Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan, two players who offer consistency, if not high-octane power hitting. Big hitters aren't quite in short supply for the side in the same way as they were in the recent past, though with Sohaib Maqsood , Azam Khan, Sharjeel Khan and Fakhar Zaman all in the fray. However, much like Asif Ali, Khushdil Shah and Haider Ali before them, nailing down a spot with consistent performances has proved elusive, adding to the fragility of the batting line-up.
"The results before the England series were much improved, we won 3 series in a row," Misbah said. "[Mohammad] Hafeez has not been doing as well as he did last year, and other middle-order players are struggling. Overall, the team is better but if these two aspects of our game improve, then we'd be in a much better position. The importance of three-dimensional players and the lower middle order is very important. Players like Hasan Ali and Shadab (Khan) and their performances are crucial, but the link with the middle order needs to be stronger."
He did defend the contentious selection of Azam Khan after a series where the batter failed to make his mark while acknowledging the bowling had let the side down on occasion. "Azam only really had one innings, so it's very early to say anything about him. When he plays more, things will become clearer. Whichever player bats at that position needs to score quick runs. When you play at number six your average might not be very high, so you can't judge on one game.
"But it's true, we didn't bowl as well in England as we did in South Africa or at home. There have been some huge overs we've allowed which has had an impact on results."
There's an element of uncertainty around the start of the upcoming West Indies-Pakistan series, with the first T20I scheduled for July 27, after a positive Covid case emerged amongst the West Indies camp moments before the start of the second ODI between the West Indies and Australia on July 22. That game was cancelled, with future games involving the two sides thrown into doubt. Misbah said he had no additional information on the series, admitting travelling during the pandemic added to the pressure and stress.
"The pandemic is affecting all sports. We just have to live with it. Of course, there was concern from everyone, both from our side and the Cricket West Indies. We are trying to make sure safety is the highest priority of everyone. Playing during Covid-19 psychologically puts a lot of pressure on you, you can't have normal activities and socialisation, and you travel from bubble to bubble. But that's how sports will go for a while, and we have to all learn to adapt."
Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000