Do Pakistan finally have a batting line-up worthy of their bowling attack?
If I had come up to you sometime in the last couple of years and told you that Pakistan will get dismissed within 20 overs in a match in which both openers Muhammad Rizwan and Babar Azam fell early, you would not have been surprised.
Had I said one of the teams in the game didn’t even manage to reach the 100-run mark you would have sighed in exasperation at the all-too-familiar scenario.
Had I then told you that Pakistan would win that game by 88 runs, scoring almost twice as many runs as visiting New Zealand, you would have laughed in my face and would not have believed that I was from the future.
And yet the future is now old man, and we stand on the brink of — whisper it — a Pakistani batting line-up that may well be as good as their bowling attacks.
They have the slight problem of having too many openers, but England has shown that there is no such thing as too many openers. Fakhar Zaman and Saim Ayub stood out with the bat on a sticky Gaddafi wicket where 20 wickets fell under the lights.
The two left-handers opened the batting for their Pakistan Super League franchises with some success. Saim formed the tournament’s standout opening partnership alongside Babar while Fakhar starred for the victorious Lahore Qalandars.
The duo was outstanding in Lahore at numbers three and four under the lights, admittedly against a New Zealand side that has its captain injured and its premium two bowlers playing in the Big League across the border.
This was no easy pitch to bat on though, as the struggles of most of the other batsmen from both sides would testify. The new ball moved precariously and later on, there was enough on offer for both seam and spin to keep the bowlers continuously interested.
In 20-year-old Saim, Pakistan has a generational talent on its hands. He seems as comfortable against pace as he does against spin, has the natural flare that only left-handers seem to have, and can hit the ball on both sides of the wicket with equal ease.
Most importantly, he is blessed with what the Spanish call La Pausa — the ability to appear to pause midgame as everything else whirls around in hyperspeed.
Only the most elite of athletes across all sports seem to have more time than everyone else around them. Saim has just dipped his toes into top-level cricket but he already has La Pausa and the uncanny ability to manipulate time.
On top of that, he has the fearlessness and confidence that T20 cricket now demands from its batsmen. Adam Milne had accounted for both Rizwan and Babar and was bowling with his tail up at nearly 150 clicks an hour when Saim came to the crease.
Saim dispatched the right-armer with disdainful ease, including a casual maximum overcover after skipping down the track, to begin the counterattack from which New Zealand never truly recovered.
Pakistan was threatening the 200-run mark when Saim’s run-out sparked a mini-collapse that saw them crumble from 109-2 to 131-6. But Pakistan batted deep and could keep attacking even when the wickets fell.
The presence of Shadab Khan, Imad Wasim, and Faheem Ashraf on the side gives you that luxury. Shaheen Shah Afridi has also started to insist he is an all-rounder and Haris Rauf’s brief cameo showed he is no mug with the bat either.
Naseem Shah, who did not feature today but is very much a part of the first team set-up, will point to his batting heroics against Afghanistan to insist his number 11 position does not do his batting skills justice. This is a long, long tail.
Pakistan went with the experience of Iftikhar Ahmed in the first T20I over the youthful fearlessness of Mohammad Haris but Iftikhar will know that Haris is breathing down his neck after his golden duck.
For the first time, Pakistan has genuine batting depth not only in their line-up but also in their squad. The trio of Haseebullah, Azam Khan, and Tayyab Tahir may have struggled against Afghanistan on venomous Sharjah wickets but they have shown their talent in the past and they will not go away so easily.
Alongside Shan Masood, they form the core of batsmen who will continue to put pressure on the current squad and keep everyone on their toes. There will be no passengers on this team.
It seems strange to be excited about the batting prospects of a side that struggled at times against Afghanistan and lost all 10 wickets in Lahore, but Babar was spot-on when he said after the game that Pakistan has a complete batting attack.
There is a wonderful mix of devastating aggression and unmoving calm, of youth and experience, of hammer and chisel. Babar has batsmen who can meticulously unpick the lock and batsmen who can break the door down, batsmen who can occupy the crease and batsmen who can go through the gears, batsmen who can clear the boundary with ease and batsmen who can see out the tricky patches, batsmen for spin and batsmen for pace.
In the first T20I Pakistan even had the perfect right-left balance and their top 10 featured five right-handers and five left-handers. It was just a curious anomaly that the left-handers managed to outperform the right-handers so convincingly.
Afridi was the only left-hander to not reach double figures while Haris was the only right-hander to reach double figures with his 11.
This was just one match against a depleted team and Pakistan still suffered from their familiar mid-innings collapse but fans of Pakistan can be justified in getting carried away with their excitement at the potential of this batting line-up.
Perhaps for the first time in their history, Pakistan is on the brink of having a batting attack as varied and deadly as their bowling.