Can Ali and Khan justify Azam backing?

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Can Ali and Khan justify Azam backing?

Babar Azam faces the first challenge of his captaincy amid calls of criticism after he backed Hasan Ali and Shadab Khan, despite the struggles of the two in international cricket of late. Ali made a high-profile mistake in the World T20 semi-final against Australia when he dropped Matthew Wade before the left-hander smashed three-straight sixes in the 19th over. It allowed the Baggy Greens to knock off the remaining runs and secure their spot in the final where they defeated New Zealand.

In the subsequent Test series against Australia, Ali appeared to be scarred by his error, producing a poor run of form that resulted in the 27-year-old being dropped from the second and third ODIs after the Green Army lost the Test series. In two Test matches in the series, he averaged 96 with the ball, taking only two wickets. He was also wicketless in the first ODI and only T20 match of Australia’s tour.

Ali is no doubt a talented player in the sport at the peak of his powers and proved as much when he travelled to England for the start of the County Championship for Lancashire. Ali claimed 25 wickets at an average of 20.67, with only five bowlers in the two divisions notching more scalps, including compatriot Mohammed Abbas.

If his confidence is restored, then the 27-year-old is more than a potent weapon to use at the international level in the coming series against the West Indies. He was the star of the show in Pakistan’s last white-ball triumph in the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy, taking 13 wickets over the course of the competition.

Azam and Ali have developed through their age groups together so there is a natural loyalty between the two men. Having said that, there is also a plethora of talent available with Naseem Shah and Mohammad Wasim among the up-and-coming players emerging alongside Shaheen Afridi. Ali must perform to a high standard to ensure that he fends off the young players that are rising through the ranks otherwise Azam will come under further pressure to drop his teammate from the ranks with a not a great deal of time ahead of the T20 World Cup.

Ali will be out for redemption in the tournament where Pakistan are backed at odds of 7/1 by Parimatch, who is one of the leading sites for online betting in Pakistan. The prices around those wagering operators back the Green Army at about the same value, placing them behind India, Australia, England and New Zealand to win the tournament. Therefore, they need flawless performances from everyone in the squad, including Ali and Khan.

Injuries have limited Khan’s impact at the top, but he was a standout player for Islamabad United in the 2022 Pakistan Super League. Only Afridi took more wickets than the leg-spinner in the competition, who claimed 19 scalps at an average of 10.89. Against Australia in the World T20 semi-final, he did take four wickets for 26 in a losing effort, suggesting that he is more than capable of raising his game. However, the issue is whether he can remain consistent and injury-free. At the age of 23, time is on his side, and he deserves another chance to prove himself on the world stage.

Azam has faced a test of his resolve under the spotlight, but the players that he has chosen to back at least have the potential to prove him and silence the doubters come the World T20 in Australia and beyond.

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