LAHORE: Pakistan captain Babar Azam gestures during a press conference on Monday.—AFP
LAHORE: Pakistan captain Babar Azam gestures during a press conference on Monday.—AFP

LAHORE: Pakistan failure to win a trophy under Babar Azam’s captaincy was under the spotlight once again when the side’s skipper addressed a press conference hours ahead of the team’s departure to Dublin here at the Gaddafi Stadium on Monday.

The national team is headed to the Ireland capital to play three Twenty20 Internationals from May 10-14 against the hosts. The series will be followed by Babar and co.’s four games in England from May 22-30 before they fly out to Dallas to feature in the T20 World Cup, set to be held in the United States and the Caribbean in June.

Pakistan narrowly missed out on the T20 showpiece’s trophy when it’s last edition was held in Australia in 2022, losing out to England in the final.

It wasn’t the first time the team had failed to achieve silverware under Babar’s leadership; Pakistan had gone down in the semi-finals in the previous edition and had been knocked out of the T20 Asia Cup by Sri Lanka months earlier. Pakistan’s 50-over World Cup trip to India was also a forgettable one.

Babar wants to keep all those memories behind himself.

“Past is past. though in the past our aim and focus and goal was also the same’ to bring the trophy home, but unfortunately we could not finish well,” he said. “But we have double the confidence and belief that we will do it this time.”

The last six months saw Babar stepping down as the Pakistan captain after the 50-over World Cup, pace spearhead Shaheen Shah Afridi taking charge of the T20 side, before his predecessor being reinstated by the country’s cricket board as the side’s white-ball skipper again.

The Pakistan Cricket Board’s administration under chairman Mohsin Naqvi also convinced veteran all-rounder Imad Wasim and pacer Mohammad Amir to withdraw their respective international retirement decisions before bringing the duo back especially for the T20 World Cup.

The PCB also appointed Gary Kirsten as the Pakistan head coach, though the South African will join the side ahead of the England tour with his deputy Azhar Mahmood to lead the backroom staff.

The reorganised, seven-member selection committee appointed by Mohsin has included a number of players — along with Amir and Imad — to the squad, while pacer Haris Rauf has also returned from injury, boosting the options at Babar’s disposal.

The batter believed each player was selected after thorough discussion among the selectors — which include Babar himself and the Pakistan head coach.

“It is the best combination (in all the departments) and every player is selected after considering his utility,” noted the Pakistan captain. “Even I am thinking we are spoilt for choice in terms of selection especially in the fast bowling department after the induction of Mohammad Amir.”

Babar’s observation of Haris in Pakistan’s preparatory camp ahead of the tour to the British Isles — which ended Monday — had also made him upbeat about Pakistan’s prospects in the T20 World Cup.

The 29-year-old said Haris worked hard during the training camp and looked fit and hungry for action after making a comeback following an injury that he picked up during the Pakistan Super League earlier this year.

“Some time a break from the cricket gives you more freshness both mentally and physically as you feel more keen to play,” said Babar of Haris.

While Kirsten is yet to join the Pakistan camp, Babar said the coach was in touch with the players as he looks to wrap up the Indian Premier League season with Gujrat Titans.

The Pakistan skipper said he would be ready to follow the head coach’s instructions for the betterment of the team.

“If Gary Kristen will have special plan in reshuffling the batting line-up it will be discussed properly to take the best decision in the favour of the team and there will be no ego problem for any player including me,” he noted, while wishing Kirsten joins as early as possible.

Pakistan adopted a rotation policy in their recent five-match T20I series against New Zealand to test a number of new players including Usman Khan and Irfan Khan Niazi to find out solutions for their middle-order problems.

While Usman, Irfan and even Azam Khan, who failed to feature in the games against the BlackCaps due to injury, are part of the squad for the Ireland and England series, Babar suggested there were low chances the players will be rotated, given the T20 World Cup was round the corner.

“Now we will give maximum chances to those players who will be rated as first choice to be included in the 15-member World Cup squad and there is no more rotation policy,” he observed.

The Pakistan team departed for Dublin in the wee hours of Tuesday but Amir did not travel along with the team as his visa was still in process.

Moreover, Pakistan’s jersey for the T20 World Cup was also launched in a ceremony here on Monday and was attended by Babar, Shaheen, Naseem Shah and Mohammad Rizwan — the quartet donning the “Matrix Jersey”.

PCB chief Mohsin also attended the ceremony and expressed hope Pakistan would win the trophy after a long period of 15 years. He said the team was in the “best shape and the boys were hopeful for the target”.

Published in Dawn, May 7th, 2024

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