Crescent Kashmir

PCB revamp to come into play as Pakistan eye redemption in NZ Tests

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KARACHI: Less than a week ago, captain Babar Azam was defending himself, his team-mates and coaches after the side’s defeat in the third Test against England in Karachi, which marked Pakistan’s first-ever whitewash at home.

Making it clear that he wasn’t ready to relinquish captaincy after Pakistan had lost four home Test matches in a row, the star batter had termed the national team’s management — led by head coach Saqlain Mushtaq — “the best”.

Babar had also backed the team selections, he had owned it.

On Sunday, on the eve of the opening match of the two-Test series against New Zealand, Babar spoke differently.

After all, there was too much to contemplate for the skipper, with an abrupt change at the helm of the Pakistan Cricket Board as Najam Sethi replaced Ramiz Raja as its chief, in an interim set-up.

VETERAN New Zealand batter Kane Williamson undergoes physical exercises.—AFP
“These things are happening off the ground, but for us as players, it’s important to focus on what can we do to win matches for Pakistan,” Babar told reporters in the pre-match press conference here at the National Stadium.

The changes in the PCB, unlike how Babar put it, will have an impact on the ground.

Match starts at 10:00am (PST)

Sethi sacked chief selector Mohammad Wasim two days into his second PCB stint to bring in former Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi for an interim role in the position. And Afridi exercised his authority right away to add three new players — pacers Shahnawaz Dahani and Mir Hamza and spinner Sajid Khan — to the national squad for the New Zealand Tests, which was initially named by Wasim.

Babar, who used to have the final word in team selections during Ramiz’s time as PCB chief, said the final XI for the first Test will be decided after discussions with Afridi and his panel, which includes former Pakistan Test cricketers Abdul Razzaq and Haroon Rasheed.

Not long after Babar’s presser, Afridi suggested Hamza, who hasn’t featured for Pakistan since his debut against Australia in 2018, may be seen in action against New Zealand come Monday.

The decision seemed plausible to Afridi and company with frontline pacer Shaheen Shah Afridi out injured and fellow fast bowler Naseem Shah also coming back after nursing a shoulder niggle.

“Since we don’t have Shaheen, we need a left-arm pacer and Mir Hamza deserves a place, he has given performances,” said Afridi of the fast bowler, who boasts an impressive record of 376 wickets at a striking average of 21.76 in 92 first-class matches, while speaking to reporters at the venue.

Afridi also suggested there can be a different pitch at the National Stadium for the New Zealand games as compared to the slow turners made for the recently-held England series.

“We can make pitches like those in Austr­alia and South Africa,” said Afridi.

“We have to let go this old fashioned appr­oach of making batting- and spin-friendly pitches.”

For Babar, though, Pakistan will ride on their batsmen as their strength, who, he noted, underperformed during the England series.

“Batting is our main strength and it has done well in patches, but I think our batters will be back to their best and will help us in the New Zealand series,” said the 27-year-old.

“Our bowling resources are depleted due to injuries, but I’m hoping we’ll manage accordingly.”

New Zealand come into the series, having lost six of their nine matches in the ongoing World Test Championship cycle — a concerning record for the current holders.

Unlike Pakistan, the Kiwis aren’t under heavy scrutiny for their recent show. Howe­ver, the Pakistan series is a crucial contest for them.

Newly-appointed New Zealand skipper Tim Southee said his team was wary about Pakistan’s ability to bounce back after what England did to the hosts.

“I think England played some pretty special cricket in this series; Pakistan is a very good side, as they have shown for a long time, especially in these conditions,” said the fast bowler with 347 wickets in 88 Tests under his belt.

“We’re looking forward to the challenge. It’s a new series, and I’m sure Pakistan would be looking to bounce back after a tough series against England.”

England were rewarded for “Bazball” — their ultra-attacking approach — against Pakistan. Southee, however, said his team did not need to imitate England’s style of play and that the Kiwis would rather rely on their own strengths.

“We will be trying to look for ways that have worked for us as a side, and hopefully, we can put on a performance that works for our side,” noted Southee.

PAKISTAN: Imam-ul-Haq, Abdullah Shafique, Shan Masood, Babar Azam (captain), Saud Shakeel, Sarfaraz Ahmed (wicket-keeper), Agha Salman, Sajid Khan, Abrar Ahmed, Mir Hamza, Naseem Shah Squads (probable):

NEW ZEALAND: Tom Latham, Will Young, Kane Williamson, Devon Conway, Henry Nicholls, Daryl Mitchell, Tom Blundell (wicket-keeper), Michael Bracewell, Tim Southee (captain), Neil Wagner, Ajaz Patel.

Published in Dawn, December 26th, 2022


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