THE TOUR OF NEW ZEALAND, A NEW JOURNEY BEGINS FOR PAKISTAN CRICKET

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Head coach Misbah-Ul-Haq announced Pakistan’s 35-man contingent for New Zealand tour, which might turn out to be his last squad announcement, after giving up the position of chief selector. Although Babar Azam was given the burden of captaining Pakistani team in all 3 formats, but many youngsters in the squad finally seems to be a step in the right direction.

There were 5 uncapped players announced by Misbah-ul-Haq, including many performers who impressed in the National T20 Cup, but could not get a chance in the series against Zimbabwe. Even if they do not get a chance to make debut in Test series or T20s against New Zealand, the chance to share the dressing room with Test team and feeling the atmosphere of International cricket will help them in future.

Many eyes would be on Danish Aziz and Zeeshan Malik, who were among best performers of National T20 Cup, which was held last month. Unfortunately both did not get a chance against Zimbabwe, because a debut at home would have been an ideal situation for them. Especially Danish Aziz would have been disappointed after not getting a call in Zimbabwe series, after scoring 220 runs with an average of 73 and strike rate of 154 in National T20 Cup. He also managed to pick 5 wicket at an average of 19. Similarly Zeeshan Malik had impressed as an opener, after scoring 305 runs with 3 fifties.

But team management decided to go with Fakhar Zaman, who was going through a horrible form for last 2 years in T20s and scored only 192 runs in last 18 matches with an average of 11. Despite those performances, Fakhar was given a chance in all 3 matches against Zimbabwe and scored 45 at an average of 15. That means not only an opportunity was wasted to give some newcomer a chance at home against a weak side, but also the opportunity was wasted for someone who may not be useful for Pakistani team in future.

Fakhar somehow managed to make the 35-man squad for New Zealand series. But still many would be relieved to see that veterans Shoaib Malik and Asad Shafiq were finally dropped from the team after a string of dismal performances. Muhammad Amir also could not make the squad, as team management has not given him any favour since he announced retirement from Test cricket. Muhammad Amir last represented Pakistan in series against England, when he toured for T20 matches only but could not complete his quota as he injured himself after bowling just 13 deliveries. He bowled 2 overs in the second match and conceded 25 which resulted in Pakistan’s loss. He was dropped for the third match, which Pakistan won.

On the other hand, Asad Shafiq was dropped after failing to score any century in last 11 test matches. Even though he managed to make a record for Pakistan, after playing 72 test matches in a row, he was dropped after scoring just 523 runs at an average of 30.76 in last 11 test matches.

Another big development was Azhar Ali getting removed as Test captain and Babar Azam getting the role of captain in all 3 formats. It will be a big challenge for the new skipper against New Zealand, where Asian teams struggle the most. Pakistan were whitewashed 2-0 on their last tour of New Zealand. And not so long ago, Indian team, considered to be strongest Asian side, were also whitewashed 2-0 earlier this year in the land of Kiwis.

A loss in New Zealand could shatter the confidence of new captain, like I wrote in my last article few days back, but Babar Azam accepted captaincy, saying he would like the new challenge. But many have been comparing him with Sachin Tendulkar, who did not have a successful time as captain of India. In fact the captaincy also affected his personal performance. Babar Azam has done well so far but he has only faced challenge against Australia so far, where he scored runs personally but Pakistan could not win any match in the 3-match series. His series victories have only been against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh so far. He managed to draw the series against England. So it would be a new type of challenge, early on in his captaincy career.

Another aspect of Babar Azam’s captaincy, which impressed many was him grooming the youngsters and giving them chance to bat in third T20 match against Zimbabwe. Although dropping Fakhar Zaman would have been better decision, as we discussed his stats above, but still Babar Azam made this positive decision of not coming to bat and gave a chance to Abdullah Shafique. The youngster thanked Babar after the match and said he had full support of the captain.

Similarly Haider Ali is also getting his chances under Babar Azam. The 20-year-old was man of the match in second T20 against Zimbabwe and said Babar Azam guided him throughout the innings. It can be said youngsters like Zeeshan Malik and Danish Aziz will also get their chances in the series against New Zealand.

Coronavirus cancelled the 2020 T20 World Cup, which was to be held in Australia. But Pakistan has to build a team for the 2021 and 2022 World T20 tournaments. And they must have to give chances to these youngsters to make a squad for these championships.

There are also many youngsters among the 10 pacers announced in the 35-man squad for New Zealand. Shaheen Shah Afridi would be the regular starter among them, but hopefully the management will give him due rest. To share the load with him, there are other youngsters Muhammad Musa, Naseem Shah, Haris Rauf and Muhammad Hasnain. There are also experienced bowlers like Wahab Riaz, Muhammad Abbas and Sohail Khan guide them.

Zafar Gohar and Rohail Nazir are two more players who were unfortunate to not get any game in the Zimbabwe series but will go to New Zealand. Wicket keeper Rohail Nazir also toured England but came back without getting any chance. So he would also be hungry to finally get his debut cap. The former captain of Under-19 team, but chances for his debut cap are not bright, considering that Muhammad Rizwan is the new vice-captain and will not be benched, unless third T20 becomes a dead rubber.

At the end, we will give our prediction for the New Zealand series. Even a drawn test would be a relief for Pakistan considering the result of last series. But a win would be very special for Babar Azam. Many would be betting that New Zealand will win the test series 2-0. But before that Pakistan may have some chance in T20 series. Pakistan managed to win the T20 series in New Zealand last time, despite getting whitewashed in ODIs. But this time things have changed. Even losing 2-1 in T20 series would be accepted by many Pakistani fans now.

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