Eyeing T20 World Cup, Pakistan look to overwhelm depleted New Zealand

Published April 18, 2024
RAWALPINDI: Pakistan captain Babar Azam (R) and his New Zealand counterpart Michael Bracewell pose with the series trophy at the Pindi Cricket Stadium on Wednesday.—Tanveer Shahzad/White Star
RAWALPINDI: Pakistan captain Babar Azam (R) and his New Zealand counterpart Michael Bracewell pose with the series trophy at the Pindi Cricket Stadium on Wednesday.—Tanveer Shahzad/White Star

RAWALPINDI: While declaring that Pakistan are targeting this year’s T20 World Cup on the eve of the home series against New Zealand, reappointed captain Babar Azam on Wednesday said currently no player is a sure selection for the global event.

“All the players in our system have emerged on the basis of their performance. The New Zealand [T20] series is a step towards the World Cup [preparations] for which we have made our mindset. And we are going to play [all] the coming series while keeping the primary focus on the World Cup,” Babar told reporters during a pre-match news conference at the Pindi Cricket Stadium.

Pakistan face a second-string New Zealand side, led by Michael Bracewell, in the first of a five-match T20 series in Rawalpindi on Thursday. After the New Zealand series, Pakistan are scheduled to undertake T20 tours to Ireland (May 10-14) and England (May 22-30) before Babar and his men launch the all-important campaign of the World Cup being held in the US and the Caribbean in June.

Answering a question regarding the familiar problem of meeting a certain run-rate at crucial stages which Pakistan have faced in recent World Cups, Babar said that the players are trying to improve on weak areas.

“We have 12 T20 Internationals lined up [including four against England and three against Ireland] before the World Cup. After the Pakistan Super League [held in February-March] we had a break and then regathered for a fitness camp in Kakul. While trying to identify our lackings, we are learning from our mistakes something which we will implement in the World Cup,” the 29-year-old Babar, who was re-installed as Pakistan’s white-ball captain last month by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), said.

On whether the World Cup squad will be composed of the players picked for the New Zealand series or otherwise, Babar was very much explicit in saying that the places for the June 1-29 global event are still up for grabs but at the same time also sounded unsure on the subject.

“There is sometime before the World Cup squad is announced, even after the squad is named there will be time to make [final] changes. Though the team [composition] will be more or less remain same, but you never know. [Currently] no player is 100 percent sure of his selection. For the World Cup, the best players will be selected,” a tentative-looking Babar said.

Replying to a question on his batting position, Babar who will play his first game for Pakistan after being re-installed as skipper, said that the team set-up is being kept “flexible”.

“We are keeping things flexible, and will be using different team combinations in the lead-up to the World Cup in batting as well as bowling. Youngsters will get [appropriate] chances to show their mettle,” he said.

“The [team combination-related] things will be clearer for us in the Ireland and England series.”

Replying to a query on Pakistan’s batting fragility particularly in the middle and late order, Babar said that the present squad has the players, both junior as well as senior, to deliver.

“We have inducted [uncapped batters] Usman Khan and Irfan Khan Niazi both of whom did well in the last PSL. Then we have Iftikhar Ahmed, Azam Khan and Shadab Khan plus [returning all-rounder] Imad Wasim, all of them strengthen our batting,” he said.

“I always hope all my players to perform. And we, the senior players, back the junior ones to deliver.”

A controversy emerged following the out-of-the-blue removal of T20 captain Shaheen Shah Afridi who was replaced with Babar after just one series, which Pakistan lost 4-1 in January.

Responding to a question on his bonding with Shaheen, Babar said that his relationship with the left-arm pacer was as strong as ever.

“Whatever information I receive [on this subject] comes from you [media]. On my part, I would say that there is nothing wrong in our relationship which is very old. We all support each other in the team,” Babar stated.

“The only aim for all of us is to deliver our best for Pakistan’s victory. In our team, no one thinks individually, all players are positive and work towards the team’s goals.”

‘INTERESTING CHALLENGE’

Meanwhile, stand-in captain Bracewell said playing in Pakistan conditions is a challenge for his side which is missing several key players for the series against Babar and company for different reasons.

First-choice New Zealand players including Trent Boult, Devon Conway, Lockie Ferguson, Matt Henry, Daryl Mitchell, Glenn Phillips, Rachin Ravindra, Mitch Santner and Kane Williamson are presently engaged in the Indian Premier League. Will Young is pursuing an overseas deal with Nottinghamshire, Tom Latham is awaiting the birth of his second child while Tim Southee is currently resting.

“Yes, I think that’s an interesting challenge of international cricket. You get to different places around the world and you’ve got to be quick to adjust to the new conditions and I think that will be a great challenge for us as coming in here and getting our feet on the ground pretty quickly and getting used to the conditions here in Pakistan,” Bracewell told reporters during his presser on Wednesday.

“But yes it has to be enough time we’ve got to go out and play an international game tomorrow so we’ll be ready to go come 7:30 tomorrow.”

“It’s obviously a huge challenge coming up against a full-strength Pakistan side. They’re a great T20 side and they showed that in the [T20] World Cup last time so I think the there was a few guys missing from this series when New Zealand played Pakistan this time last year and I think that that series showed that we can compete against these guys.

“Two-all was a pretty fair result in the end. Therefore, I think as a group we’re expecting to come here and play some really good cricket and we expect Pakistan to do the same. so yeah hopefully there’s no washouts this time and we can see a winner.

On the Pindi Cricket Stadium which will host the opener today, Bracewell said, “It’s obviously a great place to play cricket and it looks like it’s going to be a good wicket out there as well.”

Squads:

PAKISTAN: Babar Azam (captain), Abrar Ahmed, Azam Khan, Fakhar Zaman, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imad Wasim, Mohammad Abbas Afridi, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohmmad Amir, Mohammad Irfan Khan Niazi, Naseem Shah, Saim Ayub, Shadab Khan, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Usama Mir, Usman Khan, Zaman Khan

NEW ZEALAND: Michael Bracewell (captain), Tom Blundell, Mark Chapman, Josh Clarkson, Jacob Duffy, Dean Foxcroft, Ben Lister, Cole McConchie, Jimmy Neesham, Will O’Rourke, Tim Robinson, Ben Sears, Tim Seifert, Ish Sodhi, Zak Foulkes.

Published in Dawn, April 18th, 2024

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