LAHORE/ISLAMA­BAD: Former Pakistan all-rounder Azhar Mahmood will be the national side’s head coach for the upcoming five-match Twenty20 International series against New Zealand, the country’s cricket board announced on Monday.

Azhar’s appointment, however, is a makeshift one, as the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) continues its search for foreign coaches for long term roles in separate positions for white and red-ball formats.

Azhar, who featured in 164 matches for Pakistan, served the side as its bowling coach from 2016 to 2019. The New Zealand series will be his first assignment as the national team’s head coach.

The 49-year-old comes with rich experience of coaching in the T20 format, having led Pakistan Super League champions Islamabad United’s backroom staff since 2021 after stints as bowling coach with Karachi Kings and Multan Sultans.

The ex-pacer and right-handed batter will be assisted by former star Mohammad Yousuf — who is also one of the selectors — as batting coach, meanwhile Saeed Ajmal will carry out duties as the spin bowling coach. Aftab Khan has returned as Pakistan’s fielding coach.

Member of the national selection committee Wahab Riaz will also accompany the Pakistan squad during the series, but in an unusual role as a “senior” team manager in the presence of seasoned Mans­oor Rana, who has been appointed as the team manager.

Dawn understands Wahab’s role in the dressing room will be far from that of a team manager. He is, in fact, going to ensure the selection policies — which includes rotation of players and giving opportunities to younger players — are implemented smoothly.

The said policies were communicated during a meeting in Islamabad on Monday to the 29 Pakistan probables, who took part in the fitness boot camp that concluded on Sunday at the country’s military academy in Kakul.

In the meeting, “the selection committee took the players in confidence regarding the selection policy, which includes rotation policy and providing opportunities to new players”, said a PCB press release. The meeting was attended by all members of the selection committee, namely Abdul Razzaq, Asad Shafiq, Bilal Afzal, Hasan Cheema, Yousuf, Wahab and Usman Wahla.

Pakistan mainstay Mohammad Rizwan did not attend the meeting as he travelled to Saudi Arabia for pilgrimage. The national side’s squad will be announced on Tuesday.

According to sources, there’s a high chance a number of less experienced players will be named in the Pakistan squad for the New Zealand series, with the BlackCaps, scheduled to land in Islamabad on April 14, depleted with seven of their top players absent due to their involvement in the ongoing Indian Premier League.

While veteran Imad Was­im and Mohammad Amir – who had rescinded their retirements recently — are set to be selected, Usman Khan , who gave up prospects to play for the United Arab Emirates, is highly likely to make it to the squad.

Shaheen Shah Afridi, who was ripped off Pakis­tan captaincy after just one series in charge to be replaced by former skipper Babar Azam, may also be rested as an attempt to manage the pacer’s workload.

The likes of young left-arm spinner Mehran Mumtaz, fast bowler Mohammad Ali, leg-spinner Abrar Ahmed and wicket-keeper Azam Khan could also be included.

After the series, Pakistan will travel to Ireland and England to feature in T20I series following which the team will travel to the United States and the West Indies to feature in the T20 World Cup.

Published in Dawn, April 9th, 2024

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