THE Pakistan cricket team’s upcoming tour of New Zealand will be a test of skills and nerves for the players, not least for skipper Babar Azam who will be leading the side in Tests for the first time, having replaced Azhar Ali recently. The 35-member national squad, which embarks on its tour on Monday to play three T20s and two Test matches, will immediately be quarantined upon their arrival at Lincoln before the start of the matches from Dec 18. The swashbuckling Babar, who had been leading Pakistan in the ODIs and T20s, has now been saddled with the Test captaincy, a decision that has not gone down well with former players and cricket experts. A good number of them, including former captains Zaheer Abbas and Intikhab Alam, warned the PCB to not overburden the 26-year-old who has been the team’s batting mainstay for over two years now. However, Babar himself appears all set for the challenge and has expressed confidence in his team to give hosts New Zealand a run for their money in all games. The team is a blend of youth and experience and includes a number of uncapped players too, such as Amad Butt, Danish Aziz, Imran Butt and Rohail Nazir who impressed the selectors with their form, technique and temperament. Pakistan enjoyed success against Zimbabwe at home last month and the players appear to be in form after the Pakistan Super League.

Having said that, successive defeats in Tests and T20 games in Australia and England in the past year or so have raised serious questions about the team’s competitive abilities against the world’s best sides, especially during tours abroad. New Zealand is a tough adversary at home. Led by Kane Williamson, they have a sound batting line-up and a battery of fast bowlers who can make life difficult for the Pakistani batsmen. The cricketers, therefore, must ensure that they adapt quickly to playing conditions and practise hard to start the series in a positive frame of mind.

Published in Dawn, November 22nd, 2020

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