Between awe at Pakistan’s top three and despair at a non-performing middle order over the last little while there’s only been room for an underwhelming kind of meh for someone who is, by some basic but compelling measures, arguably the world’s best ODI No. 4.
Mohammad Rizwan has been hiding in plain sight for much of the last four years of Pakistan’s ODI journey which by itself is weird, because on the field, Rizwan is never hidden. He’s there with his impeccable glovework every single ball of an innings, chatty rather than chirpy. And then there’s the batting in which, this year, only Babar Azam among Pakistan batters has faced more balls in ODIs. Also, yes, there’s the sideshow of the cramps and the acting, which has been the breeziest confession by a cricketer since Imran Khan admitted using bottle tops for ball tampering in his biography.
Ordinarily it’s impossible to overlook Rizwan and yet somehow that’s exactly what has been happening in ODIs, where his record since March 2019 means he should not at all be slipping by unnoticed. Aiden Markram brings frightening power and a higher ceiling of explosiveness and Ben Stokes, for all his main character energy, has not really been a main character in England’s ODI cricket these last couple of years.
But even with a generously low cut-off of more than 10 innings in that period, Rizwan is the only batter from teams at this tournament averaging 50+ at a 90+ strike rate. The sample size is nascent but he’s already hitting all-time Pakistan numbers at that position. These do feel genuinely like double-take facts. He’s good but he’s been this good?
They’re superficial measures to a degree, so a slightly deeper and more appropriate illustration of his value, of the kind of situations he thrives in, comes through in the following nuggets. Thirteen of his 31 innings at No. 4 have begun with the total less than 50. He’s averaged 52.91 runs in these innings. Again, it’s a small sample but it is the best at this stage that any Pakistan batter has averaged from such situations. The strike rate of nearly 91 is, by some distance, the highest. At No. 4, he’s also been involved in nine century stands, more than any batter in the world in that position since March 2019.
Mohammad Rizwan’s numbers are outstanding, and now he’s doing it on a stage no one can ignore•ICC via Getty Images
This is exactly the kind of batter cricket loves: a feisty, counter-punching man for a crisis, adept at drawing the best not just out of himself, but his partners. This is the batting ideal as Mother Teresa was the human ideal. You can’t argue against it.
Yet he’s consistently flown under the radar, some days lost in the adulation of a sparkling top order, some days sucked into the malfunctions of the middle. That top three, of Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq and Babar has tended to take up a lot of oxygen over the last few years, both literally in terms of balls faced, and figuratively in the plaudits it gets for being so prolific. In the opposite way, so too has the middle order beneath Rizwan.
The use of March 2019 as a starting point for his rise is also slightly confusing. That marked a return to the ODI side after two years and after two hundreds in a series against Australia that Pakistan lost 5-0, he didn’t play another ODI until October the following year. It was only then that he became a fixture in the format, and as we all now understand, what happened in pandemic-time ODIs, stayed in pandemic-time ODIs. Nobody remembers them outside of that time. It’s really from the start of this year that he’s taken flight; perhaps no surprise given that he’s never played more ODIs in a calendar year than 2023, or that there’s been a concerted push by the management to instill more trust in the team for what the middle order can do.
It’s likely also that there’s been a slight conflation of the T20 Rizwan with the ODI version which is only natural given there’s been so much more of the shorter format since the last World Cup. That debate, about powerplay strike rates and the opening partnership with Babar, is a nuanced one, about explosiveness versus high-speed accumulation. But it’s become heated and dealt with in absolutes, spilling through into other formats where, in fact, those issues don’t matter.
The ODI No. 4 is a tricky position to do right. You could be coming in to face fresh fast bowlers and a hard new ball before the 10th over, warding off an early crisis. Or you could be coming in against spinners or change bowlers and a softer ball in the 30th over, ready to freewheel off a solid base. Potentially you play across all three powerplay fielding restrictions. As a successful opener in T20s and an accomplished No. 6 in Tests (until at least he was dropped – harshly – at the start of the year), Rizwan would appear tailor-made for it, expected to do exactly the kind of things he’s done this year.
Mohammad Rizwan has shown his ability to adjust to situations•ICC via Getty Images
Once you start doing them at a World Cup is when people do start to notice. World Cup performances amplify perceptions and so an unbeaten 131, a match-winning hundred, with eight fours, three sixes and one massive double-bluff of cramp and injury, steering the World Cup’s biggest ever chase, is an innings that people do not forget. It’s an innings that people remember you by, an innings that people identify you by
It is the kind of innings that has nowhere to hide.
And the next match is the kind where there will be nowhere to hide, in front of 100,000 people in the stadium and tens of millions around the world. Which, if we know nothing else about Rizwan we know at least this much, is exactly as he likes it.