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Match Analysis

Mohammad Rizwan digs in, then lashes out, as Pakistan continue to tick boxes

Opener puts early struggles behind him to help continue Pakistan's flawless World Cup

Danyal Rasool
Danyal Rasool
Mohammad Rizwan swipes one to the leg side  •  ICC/Getty Images

Mohammad Rizwan swipes one to the leg side  •  ICC/Getty Images

A blond, strapping giant of a figure gazes across the distance of his run-up and 22 yards of a barren, glassy cricket pitch. He's staring at a diminutive figure in green at the other end; from that distance and height, Mohammad Rizwan must have looked positively Lilliputian to Ruben Trumpelmann. At any level of cricket, this looks like a mismatch, and for a short while, an international World Cup is no different.
Rizwan fends off a couple of hostile deliveries, but Trumpelmann is only just getting started. Namibia's left-arm fast bowler, born in Durban, watched South Africa quicks Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje torment Bangladesh on the same surface earlier in the day; he was surely encouraged by that. He sends one on a length that Rizwan fidgets clumsily at; it beats the outside edge, nipping away at the last. The movement encourages him, and he goes fuller, coaxing Rizwan into a drive he can never hope to execute. It's angling across too much, while Rizwan's feet are rooted in place. The listless Rizwan takes a tentative stab at the fifth delivery, but has no control on what is currently transpiring. He respectfully defends the last ball; the first maiden over Rizwan has ever faced in T20I cricket. The giant left-arm fast bowler has roughed up the little opener.
It is nine balls before Rizwan manages a single against the nagging Trumpelmann, much happier to watch the action from the other end. This is as unlike Rizwan as we've ever seen him, uncertain, underconfident, streaky and fortunate. A couple of overs later, he survives an lbw shout by the skin of his teeth; some observers facetiously remark his presence at the crease is an advantage for Namibia, others call for him to be retired out.
Rizwan acknowledged the unusual nature of what occurred at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium. "In the first six overs, to be honest, I didn't understand what was happening," he said at the post-match press conference. "I was struggling. Some balls were skidding, others were sliding, some inswinging, others outswinging. But instead of throwing my wicket away, I dug in."
It almost flies in the face of modern T20 wisdom, which would conclude he was having a net negative impact on his side's chances by being out there, and advise he was better served taking on much higher risk and almost accept an early dismissal as a fait accompli to allow the next batter in. By the halfway stage, Rizwan's fortunes hadn't improved much; he had scored 16 off 25, managing just one boundary all that time. The innings it seemed to bear greatest resemblance to at this World Cup was the one Lendl Simmons played against South Africa, limping to 16 off 35 as West Indies stumbled to a below-par total, and subsequently a convincing defeat. Unlike West Indies on that occasion, Pakistan had all ten wickets in the bank, so Rizwan's go-slow felt even more criminal.
For Rizwan, though, the only crime seems to be the audacity of the idea that a wicket was ever worth throwing away, defiantly backing Pakistan's ostensibly conservative, anchor-heavy approach at the top. "What's important for us is to assess both the conditions and the bowling," he said. "You're right to say that we're not power hitters. But thankfully, we're cracking the code here whereas the rest of the world is still struggling with these conditions. That's because Babar and I complement each other well and plan how to approach the innings as a partnership.
"Babar Azam and I learn from each other. Dubai, Sharjah, and Abu Dhabi are conditions where even if you play very well, you end up around 150 or 160. If you look at other teams in the Powerplay, teams are finishing around 35 for three or four. But our Powerplay ends around 40-42 without losing any wicket. Today, the conditions were tough, and their bowlers deserved credit because they used the pitch and bowled the right lengths. They gave us a tough time but everyone knows what a world-class player Babar is. We'd planned to take the game deep and tough out that period."
With Pakistan finding themselves in the unusually happy position of effectively having qualified for the semi-final with games against Namibia and Scotland to spare, there was even room for quirky experimentation. Having fielded first each of their first three games, Pakistan opted to bat after winning the toss, aware they might not have the choice in a crunch semi-final. When, with just over four overs to spare, and eight wickets still in hand, Pakistan sent in Mohammad Hafeez ahead of the more natural, in-form power hitter Asif Ali, it felt like they had again taken a conservative approach. Rizwan, however, insisted it was just a ploy to ensure Pakistan were firing on all cylinders.
"We sent Hafeez in ahead of Asif because we want to tick all our boxes. Asif has already performed in this tournament, and so have all the bowlers - Hasan Ali bowled beautifully today, so that box was ticked today too. The one player who hadn't yet performed much [with the bat] was Hafeez, so we wanted to give him a chance. But he found form today as well. We're in a rhythm, and we hope to maintain that rhythm when we go to the semi-final and win it."
By the time Trumpelmann returned for his third over about 45 minutes later, Rizwan's digging in and toughing out was done. He hoicked at his first ball, and while not quite in control, made enough of a connection to send it over the rope for six. He rounded the over out with a four, and when Trumpelmann was brought in for his final over, Rizwan ensured he signed off that personal battle by sweeping the fast bowler for another boundary. Having managed one run off his first nine balls, he plundered 14 off the four balls the 23-year old bowled to him in his return spells.
In his last 18 T20Is, Rizwan has batted through the Pakistan innings eight times. When the world's leading T20I runscorer this year finds himself in a pinch, he doesn't bail out. He simply goes on batting.

Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000