Too Many Questions as Pakistan to Face Depleted New Zealand

Thu Apr 18 2024
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Shahid Akhtar Hashmi

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Finally, cricket will be played on grounds as Pakistan to face New Zealand in a five-match Twenty20 series. This follows actions off the field with two management committee heads stepping down and a third was elected as PCB chairman to set the ball rolling. Then a revamped selection committee, with no head, was announced in an attempt to get better results. The biggest step was taken only last month when the incumbent white-ball captain Shaheen Shah Afridi was replaced with Babar Azam, raising fears of discord in the team. That was swiftly appeased with a team-bonding training camp at Pakistan Army base Kakul.

Babar Azam Eager to Lead Pakistan's Squad in New Zealand Tour

Lastly, an interim head coach was announced in Azhar Mahmood as Pakistan continued to search for foreign coaches. Names of former South Africa great Gary Kirsten and Australian giant pacer of yesteryears Jason Gillespie are floating and finalized.

The series lost its sheen as the timing clashed with the glitzy and lucrative Indian Premier League. That took away nine top New Zealand players – Kane Williamson (white-ball captain), Devon Conway, Trent Boult, Glenn Phillips, Lockie Ferguson, Mitchell Santner, Rachin Ravindra, Matt Henry and Daryll Mitchell – to leave the side under strength. Ace pacer Tim Southee, world’s top wicket-taker with 157, was rested while Colin Munro, Tom Latham and Will Young were not available for the tour.

To add further woes, most experienced T20I players Finn Allen and Adam Milne were hit by injuries just a day before the team’s departure. Finn Allen had smashed a 62-ball 137 against Pakistan at Dunedin when the two teams met in a five-T20I series in January and his absence at the top will be significant.

That leaves a lot of questions: will the series against a depleted squad give Pakistan an ideal start to the build up to the World Cup? It can only be an appetizer before Pakistan play Ireland (three) and defending T20I world champions England (four) before the World Cup starting from June 1.

The next question is on Babar Azam’s captaincy. He was announced as skipper but there was no tenure given. Will Babar be the captain even if Pakistan loses against New Zealand? After what happened to Shaheen will the pace spearhead in the right frame of mind to deliver the goods? How will Babar handle Shaheen?

Too Many Questions as Pakistan to Face Depleted New Zealand

Then there are two players who are on a comeback trail – Imad Wasim and Mohammad Amir. The duo retired in emotional reactions. But on the insistence of Wahab Riaz – member of the selection committee and senior manager of the team – who is running the show. Both Imad and Amir had openly criticized Babar’s captaincy and blamed him for keeping them away from Pakistan selection. Babar will have to negotiate that ill-feeling, a big challenge that we hope he will tackle successfully.

Pakistan’s combination – especially who will open the innings – remains unclear. Head coach Azhar Mahmood kept his cards close to the chest. “I am hearing from the media that Saim Ayub and Babar will open the innings,” said Mahmood. “That is news for me because we have not decided on this as yet.” On a positive note, it is a good headache to have more options. Saim opened the innings with Mohammad Rizwan in the 4-1 series defeat in New Zealand but did not justify his talent.  Rizwan openly showed his unhappiness on his demotion in the batting order, saying he only did it for his team! Now the question is how he will react to another demotion if the Babar-Saim pair is persisted with. Fakhar Zaman, who also showed his angst over not being included in a crucial Pakistan-South Africa game in last year’s World Cup — will also question his position in the batting order.

With Imad and Amir’s return, Pakistan will have to choose one from Usama Mir and Shadab. Who it will be remains to be seen. How Amir and Imad fare in this series will determine how long they remain in the mix as Naqvi had pronounced ‘no one is given any guarantee.”

Too Many Questions as Pakistan to Face Depleted New Zealand

Interim head coach Mahmood’s tenure is also under question. Will he be given the assistant coach’s post once Kirsten joins as the head of coaching staff?

Mahmood remains confident the chosen squad is good.  “I am satisfied with the balance of the squad because most of the bases are covered,” said Mahmood on the eve of the first game. “With the return of Mohammad Amir and Imad Wasim we have got greater balance. We have 12 matches before the ICC World Cup. This is their best talent and I think they are their future players. Yes, internationally they are new but if you look at their data they have done well at their domestic level. No team can be taken lightly in the T20I.”

Skipper Babar is upbeat regarding the series. “This five-match T20I series holds a lot of significance for us as we look forward to preparing for the all-important mega-event. We had a great fitness camp in Kakul and are looking forward to expressing ourselves as a unit.”

“New Zealand side will challenge us at different points in the series, serving as a fine work out for the Pakistan side. The prospect of having a blend of youth and experience in the side excites me as a leader.”

Michael Bracewell, also on a comeback trail after missing most part of last year, including the ODI World Cup, is bullish about the chances of his team. “I’m proud to be leading the team on this tour. We’ll look to play entertaining cricket as a side and take the game forward. Most of the players in our squad have played a lot of T20 Cricket growing up and they are very well equipped with the knowledge of this format.

“Pakistan are a formidable side at home and we’ll look to put challenges in their backyard.”

The main question will be how Pakistan wins this series: in a clean sweep or after a few hiccups? Last year the five-match series was inconclusive at 2-2 (one match rained off) with New Zealand also missing some nine key players due to IPL.

Rawalpindi is also under threat of rain on Thursday and Saturday so that will leave another question mark on whether the two matches get rained off or we have action on both days. Fingers crossed.


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

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



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