Three days after another chastening loss to India, Pakistan will attempt to get their World Twenty20 campaign back on track when taking on high-flying New Zealand in Mohali. Saturday’s six-wicket defeat against India left Pakistan winless in 11 matches against their fiercest rivals in World Cups. It also means, despite an opening win over Bangladesh, that Tuesday’s contest is now a must-win.
New Zealand will clinch one of the two semifinal spots from an incredibly tight Group 2 with a win, having taken two wins from their opening two matches. In contrast to New Zealand, who appear to be going from strength-to-strength as they eye a repeat of their semifinal run at last year’s 50-over World Cup, Pakistan have quickly unraveled.
Despite poor form going into the competition, Pakistan recorded a commanding win over Bangladesh to renew hope of returning to their early success in the T20 format. But they came up short once again against India, as their neighbors reeled off their target of 119 with 13 balls remaining in a game shortened by two overs because of rain.
Predictably, the reaction back home has been anything but restrained. Reports emerged of dueling factions in the dressing room while there was particular backlash in the media at the decision to field four seam bowlers on a pitch in Kolkata that was heavily receptive to spin. And it appears the two men most in the firing line are already living on borrowed time.
Captain Shahid Afridi had suggested before the tournament that he was reconsidering his decision to step down as Twenty20 skipper following the event. However, Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Shahryar Khan revealed on Monday that the 36-year-old all-rounder would be gone as captain, and quite possibly as a player, whether he wanted to or not.
“He is captain till the World Cup under this understanding and he has said he will retire after the event,” Khan said, reports NDTV. “Even if he changes his mind and wants to carry on we will have to see whether he can be picked as a player or not.”
Meanwhile, Khan also hinted that the future of coach Waqar Younis was under review. “We are looking at it. Waqar's contract is until June. I discussed the matter with [bowling great] Wasim Akram and some other senior players and they said whether we appoint a foreigner or have a local coach he should be able to produce best results from the team.”
Pakistan’s hopes against New Zealand have been further complicated by injuries. Mohammad Hafeez is a major doubt with a bone contusion in his femur, while fast bowler Wahab Riaz was struck in the neck by a ball in practice.
The mood couldn’t be more different in the New Zealand camp. Not viewed as one of the major threats entering the 2016 World T20, New Zealand have again flown under the radar to upset the two pre-tournament favorites. Against India, Kane Williamson’s team judged the conditions in Nagpur perfectly to go with a spin-heavy attack to stun the hosts. And in their second match against Australia they changed the team up once again. Pace bowler Mitchell McClenaghan came in for spinner Nathan McCullum and took three key wickets.
On a pitch in Mohali not likely to turn quite as much, it remains to be seen whether New Zealand will hand first appearances of the competition to their leading pace bowlers, Tim Southee and Trent Boult. New Zealand should, though, be confident with only two months having passed since they triumphed in a T20 series against Pakistan thanks to two emphatic victories.
Match time: 10 a.m. EDT
TV channel: Willow TV