What is the best thing to have happened to Pakistan cricket in recent years? The answer is simple – Babar Azam. And what is the second best?
For many, it’s Mohammad Rizwan. There is something about an accomplished wicketkeeper who is also a top-class batsman that galvanises a team and provides a rigid frame. There are a few non negotiables when it comes to a competitive team, and a solid wicketkeeper-batsman is right up there.
For Pakistan, the rise of Rizwan has come during a period of upheaval. Pakistan are in fifth spot in Test rankings, down to sixth in ODIs and fourth in T20s – a format they dominated a few years back.
Rizwan has proven to be an able replacement of Sarfaraz Ahmed behind the stumps, averaging 43 with the bat in Tests and affecting 38 dismissals in 15 Tests. But it is in white-ball, and especially T20s, where Rizwan has flourished.
The 29-year-old averages just under 49 after 39 T20s, and has risen to seventh in the ICC rankings for batsmen. He had a stellar 20-over series recently in England, with scores of 63, 37 and 76 not out as the men in green put up a good fight before losing the series 2-1. In fact, he has had a sensational year in T20 cricket, scoring one century and seven fifties in 13 matches.
And things seem to be moving in the right direction. Especially since Rizwan has been bumped up the order in limited overs cricket. The right-hand batsman opens in T20 cricket now and has settled into the No 4 position in one-dayers. And that has brought the best out of him.
For Rizwan, helping Pakistan win is the only target, just like it is for Sarfaraz.
“Saifi bhai is our imam at prayers. He is a great human being and have learnt a lot from him,” Rizwan told The National.
“We back each other at nets and he always talks to the batsmen at the pitch to share his thoughts. We both have one clear objective and that is to make Pakistan proud.”
And things seem to be moving in the right direction. Especially since Rizwan has been bumped up the order in limited overs cricket. The right-hand batsman opens in T20 cricket now and has settled into the No4 position in one-dayers. And that has brought the best out of him.
“Yes you can say that batting up the order gives me freedom as I have played most of my cricket there in domestic level. I wasn’t a wicketkeeper initially but a good fielder. So I used to bat up. Initially I struggled in international cricket but now I am enjoying batting up the order.”
It’s surprising to know Rizwan was not a keeper growing up. He is widely regarded as one of the most technically gifted glovemen in the game. And even with the additional responsibilities of being a main batsman and in the leadership group, wicketkeeping comes first.
“Keeping wickets is my love. I am not satisfied after a practice session if I do not spend time in my gloves. I was not a keeper at the start of my career but I was a good fielder in my home town and I was among those boys who loved to dive no matter whether you are playing at grounds or roads.
“I think wicketkeeping makes me a fearless personality and it helped me a lot in my batting as well.
“Wicketkeeping is my prime job and I consider myself as a wicketkeeper batsman. But I don’t consider anything difficult as I believe in preparations.”
While it has mostly been rosy for Rizwan as a player, Pakistan’s recent performance against England was not quite so. They lost all three ODIs, but put up a far better effort in the T20 series, losing 2-1 only in the last over of the decider. For Rizwan, that was ample proof that the team is moving in the right direction ahead of the T20 World Cup in the UAE later in the year.
“Yes it [England series] was a major test before the global event starts in the Gulf. But I think our boys did very well against a team that is No 1 in T20 cricket. We played competitive cricket in the T20 series against England. The decider went into the last over. Our spinners stood up, which is a really good sign before the UAE event where spinners will play an important role”