By Niharika Raina
Karachi, Sep 19 (SocialNews.XYZ) The England men's cricket team is touring Pakistan for the first time since 2005 for playing seven T20Is from September 20 to October 2, before returning to the country later in December for three Tests. England coming to Pakistan follows after Australia toured the country earlier this year, for the first time in 24 years.
Last year, England were supposed to come for two T20Is but cancelled the tour after New Zealand pulled out of their white-ball trip hours before the start of the series due to security reasons. Cut to now, and 2022 has been a year where Pakistan have hosted Australia, West Indies and now are all set to host England.
With the Men's T20 World Cup in Australia just a month away, both England and Pakistan will be seeking to finetune their preparations for the mega event. In an exclusive interaction organised by Sony Sports Network ahead of the start of the series, former Pakistan cricketer-turned-commentator Bazid Khan spoke to IANS about England touring the country, impact of them coming on future tours, role of PSL in getting cricket back to Pakistan and more.
Q: England are touring Pakistan after a long gap of 17 years. Can you give us a glimpse into how the feeling and emotions are within the fans in Karachi and Lahore about this series?
A: This has been a long process of cricket coming back to Pakistan. Like, one will remember the PSL final which did take place in Lahore. It was a sight to see; it was almost like a rebirth of cricket in Pakistan. Zimbabwe came before, and every game was jam-packed. Slightly because of the floods (in the country), it's taken a backseat slightly. Because of the massive tragedy that Pakistan has had. But now that it's building up to it (to the series) and they (England) have arrived in Karachi, everybody is talking about it.
Before the tour start, everybody wants a ticket. A big cricketing nation like England coming to Pakistan, when they didn't come last time and now that's actually happening in the form of a seven-match T20I series, the excitement and build-up with one of the major nations coming here actually given Pakistan pathway for what they had built up for so long. Other nations like Sri Lanka, South Africa and even Australia touring Pakistan, that Test series was iconic.
The floods meant it (cricket) was slightly in the background for 10-12 days, but now with England arriving in Karachi, it's again back to everyone only talking about cricket.
Q: 2022 has been a year where Australia, West Indies and now England have come to play cricket in Pakistan. What will be the impact of these tours on Pakistan hosting series in future like New Zealand series, Asia Cup in 2023 and Champions Trophy in 2025?
A: I would again go back to the buildup from the Zimbabwe series, then to PSL and Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, South Africa, West Indies, all of them touring Pakistan. The next or logical step was then to get one or two of those bigger cricketing nations who would create bigger impact. So, Australia toured Pakistan and everything went well and were very happy with the very good facilities here as well as how they were treated here and security.
Now, when England come, hopefully when they come back for Test matches and New Zealand as well, and that goes through, then it gives the world a message that cricket can be played easily in Pakistan.
That's why its very important that bigger teams come to Pakistan which now they are doing in order to give a worldwide message and also, now there is no apparent reason to not tour Pakistan.
If Australia, England and New Zealand are coming, I don't think anybody else should have a problem (in coming to Pakistan), which is the message being sent.
Q: You have cited 2017 PSL final in one of your previous response. I want to delve further by asking you how pivotal has been the role of the PSL in drawing hosting of cricket back to Pakistan, especially after that 2017 final in Lahore?
A: It's been vital really because PSL is now completely happening in Pakistan. The players who come and play in the PSL, the media, commentators who come and stay in Pakistan to be involved in tournament, they go back and from their word of mouth and experience, they tell their fellow colleagues that Pakistan is a great place to play cricket.
It's made such an impact that those players from almost all nationalities come to Pakistan and due to that, almost every nationality has representation in PSL.
When West Indies came here, many of them had already played in PSL. Recenlty, England's Phil Salt had spoken in an interview about his experience of being in PSL and how it would help him cope with the conditions. So, lots of players have come here through the PSL and that was the stepping stone in getting cricket back to Pakistan.
Q: Many England players have played in the PSL previously. From this current squad in Pakistan, half of them have played in Pakistan before via PSL. How big an advantage it is for the tourists to have players who have prior knowledge of playing in Pakistan conditions?
A: If you come into a country where you have not played for 17 years, then any sort of information is good. But if you have got players who have actually played in PSL and played quite a lot in Karachi and Lahore, the two venues for the T20I series where they are going to play, that is an advantage of them knowing the conditions, the way the ball behaves and how the grounds are.
Like, Alex Hales has a lot of PSL experience and that will probably help them. But, as in world cricket, probably Pakistan is unique because it's been a few years since international cricket has been played here. You look at any other country in the world, everyone knows the conditions because of so much cricket being played and leagues around the world.
It means that almost every player knows the character of every single ground.
In that way, Pakistan is slightly unique; but as you mentioned, the players that have played in PSL, they know exactly how Karachi and Lahore play, which they will filter into the team -- the information of how the venue and pitch plays.
Q: In Asia Cup 2022, where Pakistan became runners-up, some weak links were observed in their batting, especially at the top and in middle-order. How do you see Pakistan overcoming these issues and anything more in your view with World Cup just less than a month away?
A: In my view, there are two unresolved issues for Pakistan. With the ball, it is in the backend. You have got Haris Rauf as a specialist there in the death overs. But you don't have anybody else who bowls in the death overs. Shaheen Shah Afridi, when fit, loves to bowl with new ball and is okay at death overs. But you wouldn't rely on him every single game; Haris Rauf does that job every single game.
You don't have anyone else with him; Naseem Shah we saw (in Asia Cup 2022) do a good job with the new ball, but at the back end, he's still learning his trade. That's one question Pakistan will be looking to answer as the rest of the bowling sorts itself out; Shadab, Nawaz are in form and in middle overs as well as with the new ball. The death overs is where Pakistan would want to focus.
The other issue, which you touched upon, is the batting. I think, Pakistan, in the first 10 overs, not only the power-play, but the first 10 overs as well, I don't think they go hard enough. We got scorelines of 68/3, 65/2 and that leaves a lot to be done in the final ten (overs).
It sort of is a very high-risk strategy in terms of putting all your eggs in one basket. That last 10 overs have to go your way completely to be able to get 170 or chase down something in excess of 170 or 180.
Now, the issue that Pakistan have had is that the openers or top three in the power-play have not been able to maximise that. It is an area where Pakistan will have to focus on because with the World Cup in Australia, those pitches will demand high scoring.
What Pakistan would want is first six or 10 overs to be played with more intent and be played more aggressively in order to get to a 75/80 minimum so that you can get to 200.
They also need to trust that middle order a bit more so that they can go hard at the top. Even if they lose a couple of wickets, it won't generally matter because they got enough depth to carry you through.
You cannot make up for the overs if you play conservatively. Maybe they should also look at India; they have also changed their approach slightly in a way that they are now going harder and harder because T20 demands that.
If you break down those two issues, it's going to be power-play batting and last five overs bowling will be the issues Pakistan will look to solve.
(England tour of Pakistan will be broadcast on the Sony Sports Network in India from September 20 to October 2).