Pakistan’s struggles with middle order were laid bare in Harare on Friday as the team slumped to a 19-run defeat, with Zimbabwe bowling them out for 99. Wobbles in the middle order had been a worry for much of Pakistan’s tours of South Africa and Zimbabwe, but the side had, by and large, escaped paying for it until now. Pakistan captain Babar Azam was sufficiently alarmed by Pakistan’s showing with the bat to warn solutions had to be found swiftly, with time running out before this year’s T20 World Cup.
“It’s a very painful performance,” Azam said. “In South Africa, we had chased down 200; similarly here, we should have won this game comfortably. But unfortunately, we played poor cricket and continued to struggle in the middle order. Today, it was not just the middle order but our batsmen right through couldn’t perform the way we expect them to. It was a collective collapse and we lost as a group. But credit to Zimbabwe who came back so strongly today.”
Zimbabwe beat Pakistan for the first time in T20I cricket in their 16th attempt, registering their first T20I win at home since 2016. The three-match series is currently level at 1-1, with the final game being played on Sunday.
Pakistan have tried Danish Aziz, Asif Ali, and Haider Ali in the middle order since the South Africa tour, but none of them has had the desired impact. With the top order doing much of the scoring of late, opportunities to put the middle order to the test had been few and far between, though it was notable they had struggled whenever put under pressure.
Azam refused to make excuses for the defeat. “The wicket was similar to the other day but it was suitable [for batters] and that is not an excuse anyway. As a professional, you adapt to every condition but I think we as openers didn’t give a good start from the top and then our middle order was struggling to step up. The World T20 is closing in and we have to sort this out as soon as possible. The next game we will come back and make a good combination.”
With the middle order under scrutiny, Shoaib Malik is one of the prospects for the slot but has not played for Pakistan since the England tour last year. His name has often been floated in the media as a possible answer to Pakistan’s woes, but the selectors have so far opted against picking him. That Malik would like to make a return is well known, with the veteran playing in T20 leagues across the world during this time. After Pakistan’s defeat, the normally reserved 39-year-old took to Twitter to express his opinion.
“Unacquainted decision makers need to take a step back; Babar and chief selector need to call the shots,” Malik tweeted. “In my opinion, we need an international white ball coach who understands cricket inside out & grooms our captain whilst giving clarity to our players for coming time. When your management relies on likes & dislikes especially when your cricket is just in surviving mode, then what else do expect as a nation? On top of that, when you don’t let your captain take decisions this is bound to happen.”
There has been no official reaction from the PCB to Malik’s tweets yet, but as the fallout from Pakistan’s defeat grows, there are signs a man who made his debut in 1999 may yet be relevant to them in 2021.
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo’s Pakistan correspondent
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.