The top T20I teams are "one step ahead" of Pakistan in terms of their approach, particularly with the bat, according to chief selector Mohammad Wasim. He also feels that the top order, Mohammad Rizwan and Babar Azam specifically, needs to "show more faith" in the middle order for the team to achieve the sort of big totals they need at the upcoming men's T20 World Cup.
"We often talk about the brand of cricket we play, and how we eventually have to play the modern form of T20 cricket," Wasim told Geo Super. "Obviously, the sort of cricket England and a few others are playing, they are one step ahead of us in terms of their approach. For us, it will take time to be fully converted into this brand of cricket, because for it you need certain players to be fully ready.
"But if you talk about a winning formula, we need our middle-order complementing the top order. We did get success from it as well. Our [2021 T20] World Cup went well, our home series have been good, and our success rate has been up. At the moment, the best policy for us is to mix and match [the batting approach]."
One of the issues that has been most under scrutiny is the method of Pakistan's top order, specifically when setting a total. The top three of Rizwan, Babar and Fakhar Zaman have often anchored their way through an innings, batting deep and leaving fewer balls for the more free-scoring middle-order batters. While chasing, the approach often comes off. While setting targets, though, Pakistan have usually been just around par, if not below it.
"It reflects in my selection, but whatever the final strategy is, it is down to the captain and coach," Wasim said. "The vision about my selection is based on the thought that if the low-value wickets in the lower-middle order are used, then we can get better results. We did see some valuable contributions from Asif [Ali], Khushdil [Shah] and Iftikhar [Ahmed], but I think we need to have more consistency from them."
In the final, deciding, T20I against England, which Pakistan lost by 67 runs after conceding 209, they were 33 for 3 when Shan Masood and Khushdil got together. They added 53 runs together, but took up 7.1 overs to score those, leaving a huge asking rate for the batters to follow.
"I think maybe there isn't a clear message, or there is a problem in the lower-middle order as they are valuing their wicket a bit more than they should, which is a problem," Wasim said. "The partnership between Shan and Khushdil wasn't impressive, it was going nowhere. The big advantage while chasing is that they know the target and it's easier to set a pattern and plan accordingly.
"If you want to play like this, or want to play this sort of cricket, then we don't need better-equipped players to get in. You will get such resources anyway. It all comes down to what is your game plan."
"Every team has its stronger links and weaker ones, and ours is bowling; our batting does need to improve for us to win games. As coach [and not as selector], I would love to see Shadab and Nawaz bat higher, and I had this discussion with the management, and you will see it happening going forward.
"It might give some shape to the middle order and it's not for the sake of change, but based on the skillsets they bring. Both can play spin well, bat at a high strike rate, rotate the strike, and accelerate the score."
Wasim was also asked about the dependency on the opening pair in particular, and whether that has affected trust with the middle order.
"It does look sometimes like the top order doesn't trust the middle order, but you can improve this," Wasim said. "As a batter, you get disappointed, but at the same time, you have to look up to the other group as well. I am sure coaches have spoken and this isn't a good message that the top-two wickets falling result in the entire team getting out. So there is a need to show more faith on the others."
The England games are over, and now Pakistan play a triangular series in New Zealand, with Bangladesh as the third team, and then go to the World Cup in Australia. But there are murmurs that there could be a few changes to the squad before the marquee event. Like in 2021.
"Last year, changes were made mainly because of injuries and we have encountered similar issues again," Wasim said. "We are constantly monitoring. I would say that this is the same squad [that will go to the World Cup], but in light of injuries, we will definitely consider replacements if needed.
"You can't say anything about changes during a series, and if there is a plan, we won't talk about it in public. Because the situation is fluid around the injuries. At the same time, we have backed these boys for a year now and we will still back them. But we are looking into who is expected to be fit and who will be unavailable and who can be a replacement."