Match Analysis

Shadab and Pakistan put on an exhibition of intent - but did it come too late?

The attack-first mindset that drove Pakistan's recovery from 43 for 4 was thrilling to witness, but it left the feeling of what could have been

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
Shadab Khan poses for photographs with fans, Pakistan vs South Africa, ICC Men's T20 World Cup 2022, Sydney, November 3, 2022

Shadab Khan's place in the batting order is at the centre of the debate over Pakistan's intent - or lack thereof - in T20Is  •  Getty Images

In all probability it has come too late. Despite victory over South Africa, the early tournament pace-setters, Pakistan are likely to miss the semi-finals. If so, two heart-breaking last-ball defeats will be the difference, but that's the game.
However, this was a vibrant performance from them, a win made more impressive by coming after they had fallen to 43 for 4 - Mohammad Rizwan, Babar Azam and Shan Masood making 12 from 25 balls between them. It should come as little surprise that at the centre of so much of it was Shadab Khan, with a maiden T20I fifty from just 20 balls and two key wickets.
As he and Iftikhar Ahmed, who also played a vital hand to follow his excellent fifty against India, were laying into the South Africa attack during the second half of the innings, the crowd of 30,351, the majority cheering Pakistan on, could barely contain themselves. Those not lucky enough to be at the MCG a few weeks ago may have got a sense of what that might have been like. The fans certainly ride the rollercoaster with this team.
Analysing Pakistan's T20 cricket can be a fraught business (for a fascinating perspective read this recent piece by Hassan Cheema) but one of the words that frequently gets used is intent, often in reference to the perceived lack of it. While the big two at the top did not contribute - Babar is having a horror tournament - from the moment that Mohammad Haris walked in, having only been confirmed as Fakhar Zaman's injury replacement in the morning, he provided more intent than you could shake a stick at.
He set the tone with a rip-roaring 28 off 11 balls and Mohammad Nawaz kept things moving, while Iftikhar and Shadab did the bulk of the scoring. Iftikhar monstered the biggest six of the Super 12s, but it was Shadab's innings that was worthy of closer scrutiny, for he is a player who sits squarely in the middle of many of the debates around Pakistan's T20 cricket.
In a recent interview with ESPNcricinfo, he made clear how he enjoys batting higher up the order, where he has found considerable success in the PSL. However, there has been a reluctance to give him that same role for Pakistan, although he did get an opportunity during the recent tri-series in New Zealand and, at the first time of asking, hit 34 off 22 balls and he batted at No. 5 in the first two innings of the World Cup. He has previously diplomatically threaded the needle about his role, but this innings was further evidence of what he has to offer.
"I've done well in PSL with the bat, but [in] international cricket, definitely this is my best innings," he said. "The way Nawaz and Iftikhar were batting, we got the momentum from there. When I went in to bat, I just told Ifti bhai that we should not lose momentum…we had the belief that if we play till the end, we will manage to reach 180-200, and thankfully that happened."
Shadab came in at 95 for 5 following the rather chaotic dismissal of Nawaz who was given lbw only for replays to show an edge. He did not review perhaps under the misconception that he would have been run out after a direct hit, but the ball was dead the moment the initial decision was given.
Anyhow, by then the momentum had started to shift after the midway mark with the 12th and 13th overs costing 24 runs as South Africa lost their composure in the field. Shadab got going with a brace of boundaries off Tabraiz Shamsi (a wristspinner will always enjoy taking down a wristspinner) and there was very little that wasn't finding the middle, including a huge upper cut against Anrich Nortje.
He brought up a 20-ball fifty with two more sixes, back to back, against Nortje, the first from a full-toss which slipped out with a damp ball, the next off the free-hit that followed. The cheers for the half-century had barely died down when he was dropped by Aiden Markram, although his fun ended next ball. However, his impact on the match certainly hadn't.
South Africa had got themselves just ahead of the DLS par score as rain returned during the chase, but with his first delivery Shadab found the edge of Temba Bavuma's bat after the captain had finally shown a semblance of form. Two balls later and the match was all but decided when a skidding topspinner defeated Markram. The first of his wickets was his 50th T20 scalp of the year and he is currently sat eighth globally for 2022.
His contribution to the game was in some ways summed up by the final delivery, with the match comfortably secured for Pakistan, when he raced after a clumping drive from Lungi Ngidi and hurled himself towards the boundary and almost into the perimeter advertising boards, although quite whether it was worth the injury risk was debatable. But it is very difficult not to enjoy Shadab, whatever he is doing in the middle.
However long Pakistan's World Cup lasts, and the odds are the game against Bangladesh will be it, Australia will see plenty more of Shadab in the coming months with him part of Hobart Hurricanes' squad for the BBL. But barring an unlikely turn of events the overriding feeling left by his, and Pakistan's, display in Sydney was one of what could have been at this tournament.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo