For a period of two years starting in 2016 and until 2018, Pakistan had set the template of dominance in Twenty20 Internationals. After the end of the World T20 in 2016 played in India, Pakistan were dominating the format unlike any other team. Their red-hot streak began in the series against England in 2016 and they went on to win 11 consecutive bilateral series until the 2018 series against New Zealand in the United Arab Emirates. In that period, they played 33 Twenty20 Internationals and won a staggering 29 games and lost just four. Their success rate of 87 percent made them the No.1 ranked side in the world.
However, in 2019, the tables have turned totally. Pakistan's 11 consecutive bilateral series wins ended when they lost a series to South Africa 2-1 at the start of the year in February. However, their year has gotten progressively worse as they were whitewashed 3-0 by a weak Sri Lanka side at home. This was their first whitewash since 2015/16 when England had clean-swept them in the UAE. Things only got worse for Pakistan as they were thrashed 2-0 in the three-match series against Australia, prolonging their winless run in the format Down Under. In 2019, their record in T20Is reads played 10, won one, lost eight with one no result.
What has changed so dramatically for Pakistan in a format that they were dominating from 2016 to 2018? What has led to their dramatic slump one year before the 2020 World T20 which will be played in Australia? The following analysis reveals a slump across all quarters for Pakistan and it does not make for good reading.
2016-2018: Batting and bowling fire for Pakistan
The general perception is that Pakistan's dominance in 2016 till 2018 was primarily due to playing most of their matches at home. That is true only to a certain extent. In the two year period, Pakistan won a series in New Zealand, England, West Indies and got the better of Australia in a tri-series tournament in Zimbabwe which also featured the hosts. However, it is very important to understand that Pakistan's batting and bowling worked as a complete unit in their path to dominance.
The top order was led by the brilliance of Babar Azam, who made 1031 runs at an average of 54 with eight fifties. His consistency in the middle order gave Pakistan the leverage to reach big scores. The other key player in the middle order was Shoaib Malik, who also averaged over 50 but had a strike rate close to 150. Babar and Malik's contribution in the middle order was pivotal for Pakistan.
Fakhar Zaman, Mohammad Hafeez and Ahmed Shehzad contributed consistently while opening the batting. Fakhar's strike rate was 140 and his aggressive batting set the tone for Babar to go berserk. With the top order performing brilliantly, the bowlers contributed. The bowling in that period was led by legspinner Shadab Khan who took 42 wickets at an average of 17 with an economy of just over 6.5.
Shadab was complimented well by the prowess of Hasan Ali and Mohammad Amir, who took 33 and 28 wickets respectively at an average of under 20. In addition to Shadab, left-arm spinner Imad Wasim was also Shadab's able spin twin and he took 28 wickets at an economy rate of under six. Wasim's economy rate, Shadab's guile and the pace of Amir and Hasan ensured Pakistan had all their bases covered when it came to variety, containment and attack.
2019: Everything crumbles for Pakistan
In 2019, everything has crumbled in spectacular fashion for Pakistan. The only batsman from that period who is still going strong is Babar, averaging 41 with four fifties. However, none of the other batsmen average close to that. In fact, most of Pakistan's batsmen struggle to even get to double figures. Fakhar's average is just 6.25 while the newcomers have just not fired. Iftikhar Ahmed impressed in Australia with a fifty and a gritty 45 but these are early days in his career. Barring Babar, no other Pakistan batsman averages more than 15.
When it comes to the bowling, it makes for even more depressing reading for Pakistan. No Pakistan bowler has taken more than 10 wickets in this year. Shadab, who was the key in Pakistan's dominance in 2016 till 18, has taken only four wickets in nine games at an average of 56 and an economy of 8.73. Imad has an economy rate of 5.75 but his high average and high strike-rate have not helped his cause. In addition, Amir's dip as well as inconsistent selections in Mohammad Hasnain, Shaheen Afridi, the injury to Hasan and Faheem Ashraf have hurt Pakistan.
What must Pakistan do?
Pakistan's current status is they cannot bat, cannot bowl and cannot field. The batting is dependant on one individual, the bowling has lost penetration and their fielding is below par. With less than a year to go for the ICC World T20 in Australia, Pakistan are facing a race against time.
They have three options - either back Fakhar Zaman and the rest of the batsmen so that the team can form a core. Second- ensure that the next crop of bowlers do well in the Pakistan Super League who can be sidetracked for international success. Third- potentially get an experienced leader in Sarfaraz Ahmed.