LAHORE: Bangladesh players take part in a training session at the Gaddafi Stadium on Thursday.—M. Arif/White Star
LAHORE: Bangladesh players take part in a training session at the Gaddafi Stadium on Thursday.—M. Arif/White Star

LAHORE: If Pakistan are to hold on to top spot in the world Twenty20 rankings, they cannot afford any slip-ups against Bangladesh in the three-match series which gets underway here at the Gaddafi Stadium from Friday.

Only a clean sweep of the visitors in the latest series that will show that the country is safe to host international cricket will see Pakistan keep their number one spot, which they have held since January 2018.

“Every match is a do-or-die for us,” Pakistan captain Babar Azam told a press conference on Thursday. “We have planned accordingly, we have talked to the players that they should give 110 per cent since the focus is to continue the number one ranking. We can hang on to that only if we win all three matches.”

Babar replaced Sarfraz Ahmed as Pakistan captain in the shortest format of the game following a dismal 3-0 whitewash at the hands of a second-string Sri Lanka team late last year. The team won only one out of nine completed T20s last year but Babar is hoping the team can bounce back this year.

“We have been preparing well and we will try not to repeat the same mistakes that we did against Sri Lanka,” said Babar. “We played four matches during the training camp and the team has gelled well. Our team is a good combination of senior and junior players and I’m expecting a good result.”

Babar said it was a proud moment for him that he would be leading the team at his home ground during the series.

“Some 13 years ago, I was at the Gaddafi Stadium as a ball-picker and tomorrow I’ll be leading the team out so it’s a moment of pride for me,” he said.

Pakistan named a relatively inexperienced squad for the series, naming four uncapped players out of whom paceman Haris Rauf and opener Ahsan Ali were tipped by Babar to make their debuts in the first game.

Adding experience to the side are veterans Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez, who return to the side after long spells on the sidelines. However the duo hasn’t been in form recently and while Shoaib last played for the T20 side in February 2019, Hafeez has been out since November 2018.

“I recommended their selection and I’m thankful to the team management that they accepted it,” said Babar. “I went for two seniors because they were part of the playing XI that saw Pakistan rise to top spot in the rankings. Hopefully, both of them will give it their best.

“Both of them have captained the side in the past and it is a good opportunity for the youngsters to learn from them.”

With the Twenty20 World Cup slated to be held later this year, Babar dispelled the impression that the Pakistan were looking to take a young side to the tournament.

“We’re not going to decide the squad for the World Cup just on the basis of this series,” he said. “But performances from the Pakistan Super League (PSL) will also be taken into account do finalise the selections.”

While Pakistan have batting depth, they have an inexperienced bowling line-up without the experienced duo of Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz. Shaheen Shah Afridi is the most experienced of the fast bowling quartet that includes Haris, Mohammad Musa and Mohammad Hasnain but has only played 10 Twenty20s.

“Our batsmen need to put up a good score on the board to give our bowlers a chance of defending it,” said Babar.

Bangladesh last toured Pakistan in 2008 and their experienced wicketkeeper-batsman Mushfiqur Rahim is the only notable absentee from the tour after he pulled out due to security concerns.

While Pakistan has won eight of the 10 Twenty20 matches between the sides, Bangladesh enjoy a 2-1 advantage against the hosts in the last three games.

“We have left all concerns about security in Bangladesh and we are here just to play a good cricket and we will put up a good show,” said Bangladesh skipper Mahmudullah said. “We know Pakistan are a strong side in Twenty20s but we’re here to play good cricket and repeat some good performances.”

Mahmudullah said his team was a good blend of youth and experience although the only uncapped player in the side is Hasan Mahmud.

“If you see the recent Bangladesh Premier League season, we found a few young guns and with experienced players like Tamim Iqbal, Mustafizur Rahman, Rubel Hossain and Shafiul Islam in the side, it is making a good mix of youth and experience,” he said.

He dispelled the notion that the absences of pacemen Amir and Wahab from the Pakistan side was a blessing for his team. “I don’t think it favours us,” he said. “The other bowlers Pakistan has are equally good.”

Most of all, though, Mahmudullah was wary of the threat posed by Babar, who sits atop the rankings for T20 batsmen with an average of 50.17 after scoring 1405 runs from 36 matches.

“Babar is a prolific batsman in all the three formats of the game and that shows how good he is,” he said. “We have been planning against all the batsmen how to get them out but for it the bowlers will have to work hard on the given plan.”

Bangladesh’s tour of Pakistan was only finalised last week when the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) agreed to split the Twenty20 series and the two ICC World Test Championship matches in three phases after they reached a consensus with the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) in Dubai in a meeting facilitated by International Cricket Council chairman Shashank Manohar.

After the Twenty20 series, which ends on Monday, Bangladesh will return for the first Test in Rawalpindi from February 7-11. After a break of almost two months, Bangladesh will play an ODI and the second Test in Karachi from April 3-9.

“At the moment, we’re focusing only on the Twenty20s as they are important for us ahead of the World Cup this year,” said Mahmudullah, when asked about the split series. “We’ll talk about the Tests next month.”

Teams:

PAKISTAN: Babar Azam (captain), Mohammad Hafeez, Iftikhar Ahmad, Shoaib Malik, Imad Wasim, Mohammad Rizwan (wicketkeeper), Shadab Khan, Ahsan Ali, Amad Butt, Khushdil Shah, Mohammad Hasnain, Shaheen Afridi, Muhammad Musa, Usman Qadir and Haris Rauf.

BANGLADESH: Mahmudullah (captain), Tamim Iqbal, Soumya Sarkar, Mohammad Naim, Najmul Hossain Shanto, Liton Das (wicketkeeper), Mohammad Mithun, Afif Hossain, Mahedi Hasan, Aminul Islam, Mustafizur Rahman, Shafiul Islam, Al-Amin Hossain, Rubel Hossain, Hasan Mahmud.

Published in Dawn, January 24th, 2020