CHRISTCHURCH: The time to experiment is over as Pakistan approach the business end with the Twenty20 International triangular series involving hosts New Zealand and Bangladesh ahead of the T20 World Cup in Australia.
Pakistan will play a minimum of four matches and a maximum of five, if they make it to the final of the tournament, which opens with their match against Bangladesh on Friday.
These games will see the Babar Azam-led side fielding their “best combination” — the one they intended to identify during the recent seven-match T20I series against England, which they lost 4-3 — which will also be their playing XI in the World Cup.
“The England series was about testing our bench strength and trying to find the best combination that we can go with into the World Cup both in batting and bowling,” Babar said on Thursday. “In this series we will try to play the team that we want to play in the World Cup.”
Pakistan’s performance with the ball against England was inconsistent but they were able to defend low scores twice.
And that with the absence of spearhead Shaheen Shah Afridi can be forgiven.
However, the Pakistan middle-order’s show, especially when England put big totals on the board, was poor, and exposed the side’s over-reliance on openers Babar and Mohammad Rizwan.
It needs to be seen how the Pakistan middle-order looks like in the tri-series, and how the team shapes up with minimum room for shuffling days before the World Cup, which will be played in similar conditions to that in New Zealand.
The weather in Christchurch is opposite to what Pakistan and Bangladesh are used to the current hot and humid conditions in South Asia with temperatures dropping as low as six degrees Celsius.
“Playing this tournament is a great opportunity to further prepare ahead of the World Cup,” Babar said. “The conditions here and in Australia are almost the same when it comes to the weather or the playing surfaces.”
After facing Bangladesh on Friday, Pakistan will take on New Zealand on the very next day. Unlike a bilateral series, Babar observed, a triangular series posed bigger challenges in terms of planning for games.
“In triangular series quick decisions need to be made because there isn’nt only one opposition to play against,” said the 27-year-old, whose batting style will suit the bouncy pitches in New Zealand and Australia.
Babar was particularly wary of the hosts, who boast some of the top all-format cricketers in the world in their team.
“The Black Caps have a lot of experience and they won’t be an easy to side to play against in their home conditions,” Babar said of New Zealand. “Their combination is really good with the likes of fast bowlers Trent Boult and Tim Southee along with batsman Kane Williamson and fans will get to see good cricket.”
Bangladesh will likely be missing captain Shakib ul Hasan, who hasn’t been able to join the team after his flight was delayed due to technicalities related to transit visa. Vice-captain Nurul Hasan is likely to deputise, having led the team during their victory in the two-match series against the United Arab Emirates.
He said his side aren’t worrying about results but instead are sticking to a “process” of playing as a team.
“The team atmosphere is great,” he said. “What’s most important is that we’ve been given a clear message which is not to worry too much about results.
“We are following a process. We want to do our jobs properly and be honest and sincere. The most important thing for us is to play as a team. Our focus is to perform our jobs to perfection according to the situation. Rather than individual performances, I think playing as a team is more important for us.”
For New Zealand, the tri-series will mark the full-fledge return of home cricket after Covid-19 related restrictions kept fans away from major sporting activities in the country.
“After a couple of Covid-affected home seasons, I know the whole squad are looking forward to seeing the crowds return and being able to get closer to our fans and the public,” New Zealand captain Williamson said.
Williamson said the visiting Bangladesh and Pakistan were decent sides and that the hosts needed to be at their best to win matches against them. “We’re looking forward to welcoming Pakistan and Bangladesh to Christchurch ...both sides are full of threats with both bat and ball, and we know we’ll need to be at the top of our game to counteract them,” he said.
“It’s always exciting to play in a tournament format such as the tri series, and I’m sure it will provide great preparation for the upcoming ICC T20 World Cup in Australia.”
Published in Dawn, October 7th, 2022