No guarantees Babar will play full New Zealand series, says head coach Azhar – Sport

PAKISTAN cricket team head coach Azhar Mehmood gestures during a press conference at the Pindi Cricket Stadium on Tuesday.—Tanveer Shahzad/White Star

RAWALPINDI: There are no guarantees that Pakistan captain Babar Azam will play all five matches of the upcoming Twenty20 International series against New Zealand, the national side’s head coach Azhar Mahmood has said.

Azhar was appointed in the role on a temporary basis, with the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) looking to finalise a foreign coach to eventually replace the former all-rounder.

The 49-year-old, however, echoed the selection policies set by the PCB, which involve rotation of players to manage their workload as well as giving game time to the less experienced yet promising players to strengthen the side’s bench with the T20 World Cup less than two months away.

“We could definitely rest Babar, but it depends on the situation, anyone can be rested,” Azhar told reporters during a press conference here at the Pindi Cricket Stadium on Tuesday. “However, we’ll see according to the conditions what game plans we can come up with.”

An able batter and a decent pacer in his days, Azhar noted Pakistan’s matches against New Zealand and the following series against Ireland and England — a total of 12 — will be used to identify the best combination ahead of the T20 World Cup.

“In this time ahead of the World Cup, we are looking to create a structure, a game plan and give players clarity in their roles, which always help with improvement,” the head coach observed. “We have a lot of young talent in the squad and we have to see them, to identify our bench strength. We will try to make use of it, the aim is to field the best XI when we play our first T20 World Cup game on June 6.”

The PCB’s seven-member selection committee’s rotation policy in effect has kept all options open for Azhar and his coaching staff to decide how to use each player’s strengths and that would apply on the opening slots as well, which have been occupied by Babar and Mohammad Rizwan for most of the last four years.

Pakistan have a number of players to choose from for the top order, including the likes of Saim Ayub, Fakhar Zaman and Usman Khan.

“We haven’t decided who will open the innings,” Azhar said. “Anyone can play on any number. In T20, only the top three batters have to have to know their numbers, the rest can adjust according to the situation.”

The options down the order are also ripe, boosted by the return of veteran pacer Mohammad Amir and seasoned all-rounder Imad Wasim — both rescinding their respective retirements from international cricket last month.

“I’m very satisfied with the squad, it covers almost all aspects of the game,” said Azhar. “It’s a balanced side, we have two all-rounders and the fast bowling line-up is also very strong.

“The return of Amir and Imad gives us an edge and we can use them at any point. The batting line-up has got the best available talent right now.”

Azhar, who recently won the HBL Pakistan Super League for Islamabad United as head coach, said that data suggested New Zealand — apparently depleted by the absence of their top players due to their participation in the ongoing Indian Premier League — were still a formidable side.

“Although we will not be competing against a full-fledge New Zealand team, this is still their best available talent,” he noted. “If you crunch the data and the stats, you’d know all these players have done really well in domestic cricket and in New Zealand.

“This [Pakistan series] will be a good opportunity for these players to knock on the doors for selection in the T20 World Cup. No team can be ruled out as a weak side in the T20 format.”

New Zealand batter Mark Chapman echoed Azhar’s views, saying that while his side is “missing couple of [main] players, we have an exciting and a talented team.”

Chapman added that for the second-string Kiwis, the Pakistan series was a very good opportunity for them to put their hands up. The left-hander expected that the series, which starts Thursday here, will be an exciting affair.

The 29-year-old said his team-mates were wary of Pakistan’s pace battery — which now includes Amir — and that they were “aware about skills he possesses”.

Published in Dawn, April 17th, 2024

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