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After Test struggles, Pakistan enter their comfort zone with New Zealand ODIs

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KARACHI: Five Tests in a row, losses in three and victory in none. Add to it an abrupt change of regime in their cricket board, Pakistan have gone through a lot in the last six weeks. Finally, however, they are set to return to their comfort zone; One-day International cricket.

The Babar Azam-led unit goes into the three-match series against New Zealand — starting Monday, and to be played in its entirety here at the National Stadium — at the back of eight consecutive wins and with the possibility of finishing at the top of the ICC World Cup Super League table at the end of its cycle if they win 3-0.

Unlike their performance in Tests in 2022 — which saw them lose their series against Australia 1-0 and get whitewashed by England 3-0 before a 0-0 draw against New Zealand — Pakistan have overcame the Aussies 2-1 and inflicted 3-0 cleansweeps upon West Indies and Netherlands in one-dayers.

With the ODI World Cup scheduled to be held in India later this year, Pakistan will look to carry on their momentum into 2023.

BABAR Azam (L) and his New Zealand counterpart Kane Williamson pose with the One-day International series trophy on Sunday.—White Star
“It is the year of World Cup and we start our preparations for the tournament with this series,” Babar said on the eve of the series. “We are in good form in 50-over cricket and we want to ensure that we stretch it into 2023.”

The turn of the year has also seen Babar lose a fair share of his authority over selection matters as compared to that he enjoyed under the previous administration of the PCB, led by Ramiz Raja.

After taking over the board, its Najam Sethi-led interim Management Committee sacked former chief selector Mohammad Wasim to bring in ex Pakistan skipper Shahid Afridi in his place and he took no time to make changes.

In his first squad announcement as chief selector, the 42-year-old dropped all-rounder Shadab Khan and replaced him with uncapped leg-spinner Usama Mir.

Afridi also paved way for the return of middle-order batter Haris Sohail to the Pakistan roster for the first time in three years, while also dropping Khushdil Shah and Haider Ali despite the duo having decent outings in their previous games.

Uncapped batter Tayyab Tahir was also added and in a shocking move, Afridi named Shan Masood as the national side’s vice captain, despite the left-hander having played his last ODI back in 2019.

The former leg-spinner was seen supervising Pakistan’s practice session at the National Stadium on Sunday while also having conversations with the side’s coaches. It is probable he will have a massive influence over the selection of the final XIs for the three ODIs.

Afridi had said that the selection committee “didn’t need to be on the same page” with the captain and coach, a statement that hinted over disagreements between the two parties.

“For me and the coach it’s important to be on the same page with the selection committee,” Babar said during the pre-match press conference.

Things are not fully unfamiliar for Babar though. His team will be boosted by the return of opener Fakhar Zaman after a long injury break for the left-hander. Pakistan will also have the services of pacer Haris Rauf at their disposal as the right-armer makes a comeback following an injury he picked up during the England Tests.

After being rested for the recent two-match Test series against the Kiwis, wicket-keeper Mohammad Rizwan is also set to feature for Pakistan again.

The series is set to be a competitive one with New Zealand, runners-up in the last World Cup in 2019, having won 10 of their 16 ODIs last year under captain Kane Willamson.

Against Pakistan, the BlackCaps have been successful in 12 of their last 15 one-dayers. With the 2023 World Cup in sight, Williamson has preferred to relinquish Test captaincy to focus on 50-over cricket. The talismanic right-hander acknowledged Pakistan’s strengths.

“Pakistan is a very strong side and naturally know these conditions very well,” said Williamson. “For us as a team it’s focusing on the cricket we want to play and try put out some improved performances.”

New Zealand will miss pacer Matt Henry, who is out with an abdominal strain that he sustained on the final day of the drawn second Test.

The visitors’ pace resources are already depleted with the absence of Trent Boult, Kyle Jamieson and Adam Milne.

Teams (from):

NEW ZEALAND: Kane Williamson (captain), Tom Latham, Finn Allen, Michael Bracewell, Devon Conway, Lockie Ferguson, Daryl Mitchell, Henry Nicholls, Glenn Phillips, Mitchell Santner, Henry Shipley, Ish Sodhi, Tim Southee, Blair Tickner

PAKISTAN: Babar Azam (captain), Fakhar Zaman, Haris Rauf, Haris Sohail, Imam-ul-Haq, Kamran Ghulam, Mohammad Hasnain, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohammad Wasim, Naseem Shah, Agha Salman, Shahnawaz Dahani, Shan Masood, Tayyab Tahir, Usama Mir

Published in Dawn, January 9th, 2023


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