PAKISTAN captain Babar Azam speaks during a press conference. —White Star
PAKISTAN captain Babar Azam speaks during a press conference. —White Star

LAHORE: Pakistan will be missing one of their batting mainstays in the penultimate Twenty20 Intern­ational against New Zealand but the other, captain Babar Azam, was hopeful that his side will bounce back from their dispiriting loss in the last game by winning the five-match series.

The series is level at 1-1 after depleted New Zealand, shorn of their big names due to their involvement in the Indian Premier League, stunned Pakistan by clinching the third game by seven wickets and now the hosts will also be missing one of their star players.

Wicket-keeper Mohammad Rizwan, who alongside Babar is one of the key cogs of Pakistan’s top order, will be sitting out the last two matches of the series due to a hamstring injury sustained when the teams met last time out in Rawalpindi.

Pakistan will also be without batter Irfan Khan Niazi due to injury with a Pakistan Cricket Board spokesperson announcing the injury absentees ahead of Babar’s pre-match news conference for Thursday’s fourth T20.

“Injuries are part and parcel of the game,” Babar told reporters at the Gaddai Stadium on Wednesday. “But when you lose a top player like Rizwan, of course the team will miss him. Everyone has seen the way he has served Pakistan with his performances.

“Thankfully Rizwan’s injury isn’t that serious and he’s being given rest to recover fully as we have more series to play before the T20 World Cup [in June].”

The series against New Zealand is an opportunity for the Pakistan squad, featuring several new players, to gel into a winning combination ahead of the World Cup in the United States and the West Indies.

Babar was reinstated as captain ahead of the series and stated he was hopeful his side would rebound in the series.

“We lost the last match but we must be careful about pointing fingers at one or two players as the entire team lost the match,” he said. “We are playing as a team and if we had not wasted opportunities in the field the result would have been in our favour.

“We will try not to repeat the past mistakes to win the remaining two matches to win the series.”

He also backed Shaheen Shah Afridi and Naseem Shah to show their true form after the duo were hit to all parts by the belligerent Mark Chapman in the last match; the New Zealand batter taking his side to victory.

LAHORE: New Zealand players in action during a training session at the Gaddafi Stadium on Wednesday.—M. Arif/White Star
LAHORE: New Zealand players in action during a training session at the Gaddafi Stadium on Wednesday.—M. Arif/White Star

Babar stressed that Pakistan will continue to rotate their players for the rest of the series, adding that all the players were on board with the team management.

“We’re trying to give everyone a chance,” he said. “We’re also trying to give our bench strength chances to play so that we have everyone in top shape for the World Cup. We’re testing different combinations and there is always proper communication by the team management whenever a player is being dropped.”

New Zealand captain Michael Bracewell, meanwhile, said that the Black Caps had been buoyed by their victory in the third T20.

After the opening match of the series was washed out, Pakistan romped to victory in the second game and Bracewell said that his team’s “confidence had been restored” after their victory in the last game.

“The playing conditions are different in Pakistan and we always learn something while playing here,” he added. “We might be without our big names but it’s a big opportunity for the younger players to express themselves in an international series. With Pakistan having all their big guns, it’s a great opportunity for our players to play against a tough side.”

Bracewell hailed Chapman for his sensational knock in the last match and said his side will continue to build on their victory.

“We learnt from our loss against Pakistan in the second game as a batting unit and adjusted our game accordingly,” he said. “We are under no illusion that the last two games at the Gaddafi are going to be easy. We will keep focus on making adjustments and not resting on our laurels after winning the last game.”

Published in Dawn, April 25th, 2024

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