Alongside Umar Gul, Sohail Tanvir is the most experienced arm of the Pakistani fast bowling attack at the ICC World Twenty20 2014. Tanvir’s left-arm pace with subtle changes of speed complements Gul’s right-arm pace and reverse swing, a formidable combine that then cedes centrestage to the spin trio of Saeed Ajmal, Shahid Afridi and Mohammad Hafeez.
It’s the kind of attack any captain would love to possess. It’s also the kind of attack that will need to be at its best against the formidable batting line-up India possesses.
First up for Pakistan as it mounts its challenge for a second World T20 title in four editions will be arch rivals India, which, Tanvir says, has the strongest batting line-up in the competition.
“It has always been the case – Pakistan’s bowling against India’s batting,” said Tanvir, who also played in the inaugural World T20 when Pakistan lost the final to India in 2007, on Saturday (March 15). “India’s batting line-up is very strong, to me it is the strongest line-up in the tournament, especially in these conditions in the subcontinent. Their entire line-up wears a formidable look about it; they have big names and big match-winners.
“Especially in Twenty20 cricket, it is not prudent to single any one individual out or focus on any one batsman. If you compare the two sides from then to now, even then we had a very good bowling attack and they had a very strong batting line-up. And you have to play against the entire team, not one or two batsmen. The scenario in a T20 game can change in the space of one or two overs, you have to therefore focus on the whole opposition.”
Tanvir felt Pakistan had a pretty formidable batting unit of its own to go with its versatile bowling. “We showed during the Asia Cup what a strong batting unit we have,” he pointed out. “The batting did well under pressure, which is the sign of a good team. And Shahid Afridi coming good when the team needed him to, that is a huge positive for us.
“We have always had a good bowling attack, we have always produced wicket-taking bowlers. We have a lot of variety, and we have three quality spinners in Afridi, Ajmal and Hafeez. Alongside Gul, myself and Bilawal Bhatti, that is a very good attack, which can perform on any given day against any side. India against Pakistan is a match of high expectations and it will be a tough battle. But the team that does better on the day will come up trumps. We know India’s faster bowlers are a little short on international experience, and there is a huge difference in pressure between domestic cricket and international cricket. I am sure that will be an area of concern as far as they are concerned.”
Tanvir is increasingly becoming something of a T20 specialist, superfluous to Pakistan so far as the other formats are concerned. “It can be a little tough, playing only T20 cricket internationally, because the matches aren’t that many, but then again, you are a professional cricketer and there is no room for excuses,” said Tanvir, who played a lead role in Rajasthan Royals winning the inaugural Indian Premier League in 2008. “Also, you play in Twenty20 leagues across the world and therefore are in touch with not just the format but the growing trends and the nuances of the version.”
During this year’s tournament, Tanvir conceded, spin would have a big role to play. “Whichever team has a strong spin attack will have the edge,” he said, but added that the pacers couldn’t be ignored. “You need the seamers to bowl at the death, you can’t just discard the seamers. The attacking role in the middle overs will rest with the spinners and for all the seamers, bowling on these pitches will be a challenge. But Gul and myself, we have a lot of experience, we have played a lot of T20 cricket. I have also played in the Bangladesh Premier League here, on these pitches, so I know these pitches and I don’t foresee a problem as such.”
While the T20 format requires a bowler to bowl no more than four overs in a game, it wasn’t easy, Tanvir insisted. “It looks easy, to bowl four overs in a game, but it is like bowling more than ten overs in a One-Day International,” he noted. “Every ball is crucial in a T20 game, every ball takes so much physical and mental energy out of you. You are always in pressure situations, bowling in the Power Play or at the death, it can be really very stressful.
“And whether you are a fast bowler or a spinner, you must have variations. It is a very skilful game, which requires you to be smart and intelligent. I am not saying pace doesn’t matter, but if you just bowl quick without variations, then your chances of success become that much lesser. You need to change things up to surprise the batsmen and keep them honest; if you are predictable, you will get hammered.”