Exclusive| Azhar Ali: Pakistan not bowling smartly, making Babar Azam's captaincy look poor in the T20 World Cup

In an exclusive interview, Azhar Ali discusses Pakistan's struggles in the T20 World Cup, pointing out the need for smarter bowling tactics to support Babar Azam's captaincy. He advises bowling first against India and pursuing an aggressive batting strategy to secure a win.

Wriddhaayan Bhattacharyya
W. Bhattacharyy

Last Updated: 2024-06-10

Louis Hobbs

5 minutes read

Azhar Ali

Pakistan, known for its speedsters, fielded four seasoned quicks — Haris Rauf, Mohammad Amir, Shaheen Afridi, and Naseem Shah — in their T20 World Cup opener against the USA in Dallas on Thursday but couldn't avoid defeat. The Americans, who made their tournament debut as co-hosts, took the match to Super Over and created history by emerging victorious.

The loss has put Babar Azam and Co. in a spot of bother. They have to win the marquee clash against arch-rivals India at the Nassau County International Cricket Stadium in New York on Sunday to stay afloat in the tournament.

Former captain Azhar Ali, who has played with most of the current Pakistan players, feels undisciplined bowling and panic cost them the game. "You don't expect to lose to a non-Test-playing nation, although the USA is not a weak team. They handled pressure better. Pakistan panicked, as you saw in the Super Over by Mohammad Amir. They could have avoided the Super Over if they had a calm head," Ali, a veteran of 97 Tests and 53 ODIs, told Sportsboom on Friday.

Image Credits: The Cricketer

Image Credits: The Cricketer

How Pakistan can turn the tide

Ali, however, is hopeful of a turnaround. He wants the bowlers to operate smartly and assess the conditions better. "They can still qualify for the Super Eight, but the situation doesn't look good. We always say bowling is our strength and that we have fantastic fast bowlers, but we are not bowling smartly. We are coming in with a lot of aggression and trying to bowl yorkers. It worked out for Shaheen for many years, but not in these conditions.

"You need to bowl length, and that's how you can get seam movement and some extra bounce. We bowled too full with the new ball, and if you keep bowling like that in New York, where the pitch is conducive to fast bowling, you will end up giving a chance to batters to play their strokes," added Ali, who had scored a handsome 59 off 71 in the Champions Trophy final against India in 2017.

Ali feels the Pakistan bowlers should not allow the Indian batters to find their zone. "If they get their rhythm, they could post a total can't chase on these wickets," he said.

Babar Azam's tactics and captaincy

Babar drew flak for being defensive in his approach while anchoring the innings, but Ali felt it was the "need of the hour."

"Pakistan had lost three wickets. He found himself in a situation where you can't kick on. His dismissal could have closed the game," he said.

Ahead of the Indo-Pak clash, Ali expects the bowlers to provide the cushion for the captain. "Babar has struggled to put the right fielders in place, and at times, his bowling changes have not been up to the mark, but you can't blame one guy. If you can't defend 160 with four of the best fast bowlers in the world, the bowlers and the coach need to be questioned," he said.

Ali expects the pacers to bowl to the field. "Once the bowlers are not delivering, they can make captaincy look bad. You can't bowl full tosses and full when you have mid-off standing up in the circle. Shaheen is bowling away swingers when the third man and mid-off is up. If the batter middles, it goes over mid-off, and if he edges, it goes towards third man, so you can't bowl outswingers. You got to give cushion to the captain; else, the bowlers can mislead the captaincy," he added.

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If you have to beat India, you have to play positively and be aggressive with the mindset.

Azhar Ali

How to approach India

Ali is aware of the tough batting conditions in New York. "If you have to beat India, you have to play positively and be aggressive with the mindset. You have to score runs. If you put pressure on yourself with the crowd, which could be mostly Indians, you will reach a point of no return.

"When conditions are tough, it is harder to score a single also because you can't time the ball. Sometimes, you have to play an aggressive shot to get a run. The backfoot punch and drive may not work. You could try your fancy shots, go down the track, and try a big shot," said Ali, who scored 8,987 international runs before retiring in 2022.

He backed players like Fakhar Zaman and Usman Khan to try out such shots. "They have the license to express themselves. At times, it doesn't matter how the runs come, be it from the helmet or leg, you need momentum. They also have a wrist spinner (Kuldeep Yadav) who can trouble the middle-order," he explained.

Ali feels Pakistan should win the toss and bowl first. "That will be an advantage, but Pakistan needs an extra batter if Imad Wasim doesn't return from injury. Azam Khan is not in the best frame of mind. His confidence is low. It will be hard for him to reverse his fortunes against a team like India. Among the bowlers, Amir has been successful against Rohit Sharma in the past, but those inswingers are not happening at present," he signed off.

Wriddhaayan Bhattacharyya is a cricket journalist based in India who takes a keen interest in stories that unfold on and off the field. His expertise lies in news writing, features and profiles, interviews, stats, and numbers-driven stories. He has also worked as a podcaster and talk show host on cricket-related shows on YouTube and Spotify.