LAHORE: The upcoming T20 World Cup remains Pakistan focus despite their loss to a depleted New Zealand side in the fourth Twenty20 International here at the Gaddafi Stadium on Thursday.

The result confirmed the hosts would not be able to win the five-match series even if they trump New Zealand in the final match at the same venue on Saturday. A victory for Pakistan would see the series end 2-2, with the two teams sharing the winners’ trophy.

After their seven-wicket defeat in the third match in Rawalpindi, Pakistan had gone into the first fixture in Lahore with five changes, with mainstays Mohammad Rizwan, Shaheen Shah Afridi and Naseem Shah not featuring.

While the changes may have had a role in Pakistan’s four-wicket loss, for the national side’s management, testing less experienced players to strengthen the bench means more with the World Cup less than two months away.

“When your main players don’t play it does make a difference,” Pakistan batter Fakhar Zaman, whose effort of 61 off 45 went in vain on Thursday, admitted. “But we are focusing on the World Cup, which is why we’re making changes in every match.”

New Zealand are touring Pakistan with their first-choice players absent, majorly due to their involvement in the ongoing Indian Premier League. Led by off-spinner Michael Bracewell, the BlackCaps contingent are being considered as second, if not third-string. Their opponents’ standing has made defeats in the last two matches embarrassing for Pakistan.

“No one likes to lose a match at the international level but again for each one of us the World Cup and finding the right combination for it matters the most,” Fakhar noted. “Meanwhile, we will try our best to win the next match.

“Both things are important, the World Cup comes after a long gap, but it is also important to win individual matches at the international level.”

A newly-formed selection committee and a revamped coaching setup ahead of the New Zealand series has adopted a rotation policy focused on preparing Pakistan for the World Cup — to be held in the United States and the West Indies in June.

The management, Fakhar revealed, has clearly communicated to players about their roles and the number of opportunities they will be provided.

“If I talk about myself, the management had informed me before the series that I will not play the first three matches,” said the flamboyant southpaw. “Similarly, each player was given clarity over the matches they will feature in and the ones they won’t play.”

MARGINAL ERRORS

Pakistan head coach Azhar Mahmood, who has taken up the role on a consultancy basis only for the New Zealand series, believed the two teams were separated in the fourth match only by margins.

The former all-rounder pointed out at intricate details that gave New Zealand the edge throughout the match, while hoping Pakistan will work on their shortcomings.

“There were a few positives for us as we scored more boundaries than New Zealand,” Azhar said. “We also bowled more dot balls but they just took more doubles than us. These are areas of concern for us and we’re constantly working on it.”

The 49-year-old was did not seem to be worried about Pakistan losing three wickets in the powerplay, which saw Saim Ayub and Usman Khan — both being tested as potential first-choice players — along with captain Babar Azam depart early.

For Azhar, the intent to score mattered more than keeping wickets in hand.

“We always talk about showing intent,” he observed. “The way Usman Khan showed intent today was pleasant to watch. He played some good shots but couldn’t perform the way we wanted him to. But intent-wise, he was spot on.”

While Pakistan will be desperate to win the final match and draw the series, there are chances of rain playing spoilsport. Clouds hovered over the city after a storm followed by a spell of rain on Friday.

New Zealand were to go for an optional practice session but that was also called off due to rain. Meanwhile, Pakistan chose to rest on Friday.

Published in Dawn, April 27th, 2024

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