Khushdil Shah averages just over 20 in T20Is at a strike rate of 110.75, but he should be given a longer rope, writes Sarah Waris.

Khushdil has batted in 22 innings in the T20I cricket for Pakistan since his debut in November 2019. 50 per cent of his knocks have had a strike rate of less than 100, and six other times he has struck at less than 130 – numbers which are well below par for a designated finisher. His poor run of form in the recent T20Is against England, where he made 63 runs at 21, saw fans direct chants of “parchi” at him, a term used to imply that favouritism not talent was the reason why he continued to make the XI.

A first glance at his numbers in T20Is suggests Pakistan are taking an underperforming player to the T20 World Cup, but his big-hitting could be the X-factor in a team where the top-order is inclined to bat steadily in the middle overs.

Since the start of 2021, Pakistan have played 44 matches, with the top order facing 3,230 deliveries of the possible 5,280 deliveries – a whopping 61.17 percent. While they have made runs at an average of 40.01 in this period, the strike rate has been a relatively poor 128.85. The top three face, on average, 73 deliveries per game, but only score 95 runs between them, which leaves the middle order with a lot of catching up to do without many balls to face.

Khushdil, who generally bats at No.5 or No.6, and has even played at No.7 and No.8, has had to indirectly bear the brunt of their approach and has to leave an instant impact every time. His T20I numbers suggest that he has not been able to live up to expectations, but there is more to it than that.

The left-hander has faced 279 balls faced in T20Is, including 125 this year in 11 innings. Only three times has Khushdil faced more than 20 deliveries in a game, which highlights the immense pressure that he is under every time he walks out to bat. For finishers like him, who have a high-risk role in the XI, the chances of failing outweigh the opportunities to succeed. Yet, they are necessary for the balance of the side. Having a player like Khushdil coming out in the middle order provides Pakistan with the opportunity to aim for above-par scores, much like he did in the Asia Cup clash against Hong Kong this year.

Last year’s T20 World Cup semi-finalists had huffed their way to 64-1 after 10 overs and were 129-1 with 23 deliveries left. Babar Azam had departed early, for nine, following which the duo of Mohammad Rizwan and Fakhar Zaman came together, each getting to their respective fifties. They stitched together 116 runs in 13.4 overs, striking at 136.84 and 129.26 respectively, before Khushdil walked out to break the self-imposed shackles, taking the score from a par total to a match-winning one. He struck five sixes in 15 deliveries, making 35* as Pakistan ended with 193-2 in their 20 overs. No other player in the game could score at quicker than 140.

Despite that knock, Khushdil ended the Asia Cup with a strike rate of 120, facing seven, 11, three, eight and four deliveries in his other knocks in the competition.

His role is to come out in the end and go after the best bowlers, something that he excelled at in the Pakistan Super League this year. In the PSL, Khushdil, playing for Multan Sultans, ended with a strike rate of 182.14, facing 84 balls. He hit a total of 10 maximums or a six every 8.4 deliveries. Only Tim David (six every 6.81 balls), Rahmanullah Gurbaz (6.42), Umar Akmal (5.8) and David Wiese (7.58) fared better (min. 10 maximums in the season).

Khushdil faced only 8.40 balls per innings but scored almost 15.30 runs per innings. He was a player Multan Sultans desperately needed after teammate Rizwan batted through the PSL with a strike rate of 126.68.

The fastest T20 hundred by a Pakistani also belongs to Khushdil which he reached in only 35 balls in the National T20 Cup in 2020, batting at No.5. It once again highlighted what he was capable of doing lower down the order. His left-arm spin also gives Khushdil an extra edge – he picked up 16 scalps in the PSL this year, becoming one of two players to score 150 runs and pick up more than 15 wickets.

The talent is undeniably there, and how to maximise his skills is up to Pakistan. The best bet would be to tackle him how India have managed Dinesh Karthik, giving Khushdil a definite role in the side so he can practice accordingly. Karthik owes his recent success down the order to ‘practice scenarios’, something which Khushdil can immensely benefit from. Pakistan also have Asif Ali as a finisher and can use them according to match-ups. Having two players, one a left-hander and the other a right-hander, who can tee off from ball one, is a luxury, but it can be argued that the side has not been able to make the most of its resources.

Asif has been around the international circuit for a while and has cemented his place, unlike Khushdil. The latter has managed to enter the set-up after blistering knocks in domestic cricket and has been able to impress in ODIs. A few failures in a fickle format like T20Is where a lot is expected of him, should not be a reason for the selectors to give up hope.

They have to be willing to give him an extended rope and should only judge him after recognising the severity of their demands, which entails Khushdil coming out game after game against the most lethal bowlers in the world at the death. It is a role few have perfected in the past, so the intense scrutiny can be over the top – there are few, if any, better left-handed alternatives in Pakistan. The talent has been seen, and now it is up to the camp to push him out in tough situations, even if the failures pile up. It will help him gain experience, allowing him to break free with more ease and regularity in the future.

Khushdil is someone Pakistan might not want, but he is someone they do need.