In the last week of June, Saeed Ajmal had annoyed some Pakistan die-hards by bluntly saying that Azhar Ali’s men may not win even a single Test in England.
On the chat boards he was vilified, called disgruntled for not landing PCB jobs and whatnot.
Ajmal’s grim prediction, also backed by Basit Ali, is on the brink of becoming a cold reality. Another defeat tonight and the 30-plus strong contingent that passed a zillion Covid tests and spent days and days in English isolation would return home empty-handed.
Zilch, nothing, nada. Absolutely zero tangible positives to show for two months of toil. The glass half-full guys would point towards Mohammad Rizwan’s emergence, Mohammad Hafeez’s proverbial Indian summer but those get offset by long-term assets Shaheen Afridi and Naseem Shah’s disappointing showings.
Net gains, even in intangible terms would be in the red.
On the other side of doom and gloom is a different narrative. Beat England in the final T20I tonight and suddenly you lost just one more game (Test) than England over the course of the tour. One day rather, or even one session.
The last-gasp chance to salvage the entire tour should serve as extra motivation for the men in twin shades of green.
On paper, and in theory, it should be pretty doable. Pakistan have won 92 T20Is. That’s nine more than anyone else. That anyone else is India by the way. Did not need to tell but still telling.
So the most successful T20 side ever needs a single victory over a side missing so many of its regulars it’s practically England-B. Exactly why is that difficult, you ask?
In a nutshell, the answer is “inconsistency”.
This word has become so synonymous with Pakistani cricket it basically comes in the box when you sign up as a fan.
In the first T20I, the bowlers worked, in the second T20I, the batsmen worked, the same was pretty much the story during the Test series. When both units do the job, the fielders do too, and the weather isn’t naughty even, you can count on Pakistan to get in the W column.
Would that be tonight?
We can rest easy regarding one thing: the weather. It’s expected to be cloudy in Manchester tonight but precipitation levels would remain under 5 per cent. The same chances were on Sunday and it did not rain. Still, #fingerscrossed
Who plays and who doesn’t
The other, more bigger concerns, are how Pakistani batsmen and bowlers fare. The T20I batting unit has so far not had any failures. And why would they? They’ve batted just once. So don’t expect any changes except for maybe Haider Ali for Iftikhar Ahmed.
That Iftikhar Ahmed who dropped Tom Banton for 5 in the first T20I, scored 8 off 9 in the second and is a ’29-year-old’. Haider has youth and several former cricketers on his side but does not bowl so this one is on edge.
The bowlers, however, will have changes. Mohammad Amir is hamstrung and with Wahab Riaz enjoying the backing of Shahid Afridi, this switch is almost a certainty.
The other change that is warranted on the basis of performance (or a lack thereof) is Shaheen Afridi. The lanky 20-year-old has been out of sorts during the entirety of the tour and needs a break – not for physical reasons but just so he could reset things a bit.
The candidates to replace him are his pal Naseem Shah and Mohammad Hasnain. The fact that the former has never played a T20I and the latter was the highest wicket-taker in the truncated Pakistan Super League explains who should get the nod.
England are England. No need to discuss them. The narcissist in us would like to believe who line-up for the English do not matter. The outcome of tonight’s match rests solely on how us, the Pakistani XI, plays.