It’s been a complicated few days for Mohammad Rizwan. After being named the best player of the Test series over in England in the summer, he was catapulted to levels of prominence that seemed unlikely to come his way while he served as understudy to Pakistan’s then all-format captain Sarfaraz Ahmed.
He was named vice-captain of the Test side only last month, but with Babar Azam ruled out of the first Test, he is set to lead a side he has only played for nine times out in the Boxing Day Test against New Zealand. Only Javed Burki in the 1960s has played fewer Tests before being elevated to the captaincy. Rizwan’s stock has never been higher.
Oddly, though entirely fittingly in the bizarre world of Pakistan cricket, the levels of criticism he endured were never fiercer either. You see, Azam’s absence in the T20Is meant someone had to do a fairly straightforward job – replacing the world’s number two T20I batsman at the top of that Pakistan order. And who did they entrust? Of course Rizwan, sent on that hiding to nothing.
Having struggled to get going in the first two T20Is, he was singled out for Pakistan’s lacklustre performances, with his selection forensically scrutinised. There were calls for Sarfaraz to replace him in the side – though Sarfaraz would never have opened the innings, so that problem still remained. Either way, Rizwan walked out on Tuesday with a target on his back – and not just from the opposition.
Things didn’t look much better when he struggled for fluency in the Powerplay, unable either to get his shots away or get the more belligerent Haider Ali on strike – the 20-year old faced just nine balls in the first five overs. When he did bring up his half-century off 40 balls, he had picked up the pace, but the asking rate kept mounting.
Rizwan, however, is a patient man. He had spent two years out of the side, often not even deemed necessary to be part of the travelling contingent as the second-choice wicketkeeper, given how nailed on Sarfaraz was as captain. Some might have complained – Pakistan cricketers are not especially famous for taking prolonged exclusions in good grace. Rizwan kept his head down and trusted the process, and that, it appeared, is what he was doing for the first half of the chase.
With the asking rate hovering above ten and Hafeez – the likeliest to win this match for Pakistan given his sparkling 2020 – gone, it is worth reminding oneself this is very much not Rizwan’s game. A man who wasn’t even trusted by his PSL franchise, the Karachi Kings, to so much as play for them had been was being asked to open the innings for Pakistan in New Zealand, negotiate Boult, Southee and Jamieson in the Powerplay while keeping the asking rate down, and finish off by blitzing said good bowlers at the death.
Check, check, check. Half an hour later, Rizwan would walk off the Napier field having just played a T20 knock for the ages. In one of Pakistan’s finest away chases, he took just 18 balls to score his final 38 runs, all the while negotiating a steady trickle of Pakistan wickets from the other end that threatened to make things interesting again. He was unfortunate not to hit the winning runs, but it’s unlikely Iftikhar Ahmed would have had the confidence, or the opportunity, to finish things off with such aplomb had it not been for Rizwan’s unlikely, analytics-defying knock.
It doesn’t take long to chip away at a player’s confidence, and head coach Misbah-ul-Haq was particularly cognizant of that in the post-match presser. “It’s always very encouraging to see Rizwan respond like that just after finding out he will be the Test captain. We know that in these conditions, that series is going to test us. But Rizwan’s own confidence will go a long way to helping the Pakistan team in the Tests.
“I think it was a tough series for us in terms of preparation, the way we got only six days to prepare for such competitive cricket. It was a bit tough on the guys, but the responded well and tried their level best. We finally got a much needed win today. I’m happy with Rizwan’s performance, who was under pressure from the previous two games today. “Very pleased with this performance, and hopefully he, and all of us, can take this confidence into the Test series. It’s a great morale boost for him to be the one that gets these runs, setting an example for the team now that he’s captain.”
This was a team Rizwan wasn’t a part of for several years, one that, had most had their way, he might not have been a part of even today. Perhaps there’s a case to be made this performance will end up as more an outlier than anything suggestive of a fresh trend for Rizwan’s T20I career, and time will certainly tell. But you might excuse Rizwan for not being too fussed about that one just yet. The statistics may not support him, but as Rizwan prepares to take charge of a Pakistan Test side, he may feel he has little use for likelihoods and probabilities.
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