Saqlain Mushtaq
Saqlain Mushtaq, Pakistan coach, is satisfied with his team's performance in the Asia Cup and is looking forward to the World Cup in Australia. "We were outplayed by a team which played brilliant cricket," he said at the post-match press conference on Sunday. Image Credit: Gulf News

Pakistan cricket coach Saqlain Mushtaq believes Pakistan are in the best shape heading into the T20 World Cup in Australia, beginning next month. He seemed unperturbed by skipper Babar Azam’s lack of runs in the Asia Cup and the misfiring middle order.

Addressing the post-final press conference on Sunday, Mushtaq attributed Azam’s lean trot to bad luck. “If someone looks at his [Azam’s] batting, you’d just say he’s unlucky … the way he’s getting out. “It’s just a [bad] patch. If you look at the rankings, he’s top in T20Is [behind Mohammad Rizwan] and ODIs. The way he trains and plays is amazing. His work ethic is top class,” the Pakistan coach said.

We played nine overs of good cricket. They [Sri Lanka] dominated the rest 30-31 overs in all aspects. They played brilliant cricket. Credit goes to all of them.

- Saqlain Mushtaq, Pakistan coach

More worrying should be the paucity of decisive knocks from middle-order stalwarts Fakhar Zaman, Iftikhar Ahmed and Khushdil Shah, but Mushtaq doesn’t see it as a failure. “We should look at the overall scene. We made the World Cup semifinals, the Asia Cup finals and a whitewash in the West Indies series. Evidence indicates you’re doing something right. In some games, we made some small mistakes which look bigger,” he said, adding that it’s not a concern since the lower-order takes over when the middle-order fails.

The Pakistan coach harped on the need to show faith, trust and belief in the players and strategies. “If you keep shuffling, it sends a message that you don’t trust them. After the second match itself, there was talk about our batting order. I don’t follow social media, but you do hear the chatter. You need to give time. It’s not good to shuffle a lot. It sends a wrong message,” Mushtaq said.

Mohammad Rizwan
Pakistan's Mohammad Rizwan plays a shot against Sri Lanka in the DP World Asia Cup final at the Dubai International Stadium on September 12, 2022. Rizwan's slow scoring has come under criticism, but Saqlain Mushtaq says his methods work for him. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Referring to the social media chatter critical of Rizwan’s slow scoring, he said: “Every team and player has their own style and methods. It’s not mandatory to do what the rest of the world is doing [about scoring rate]. We want to focus on the small things we aren’t doing right and improve instead of looking at what others are doing. His [Rizwan’s] method is not bad and works for him.”

Mushtaq refused to blame the Pakistan team for the Asian Cup defeat in the final, saying that they were outplayed by a Sri Lankan side playing brilliant cricket. “We played nine overs of good cricket. They [Sri Lanka] dominated the rest 30-31 overs in all aspects. They played brilliant cricket. Credit goes to all of them. The way they played against India and got momentum against Afghanistan, they deserve a lot of praise,” he said.

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The Pakistan coach singled out Rajapaksa for praise. “The way Rajapaksa played, and No 6 and 7 played around him; they took the game away. It should be the best innings of his [Rajapaksa’s] life.”

Mushtaq had said ahead of the final that a champion side should win irrespective of who wins the toss. He reiterated that after the final saying that Sri Lanka have done just that. “In the previous [Super 4] game, they asked us to bat first and won. In this game [final], we batted second, and they still won. The way they played in both games, it’s well-deserved.”