Babar Azam celebrates after scoring 100 against New Zealand. File
A full-strength Pakistan take on a New Zealand side depleted by the Indian Premier League (IPL) when their five-match T20 series gets under way in Lahore from Friday.
Eight Kiwis are missing because of the IPL and skipper Kane Williamson has a bad knee injury, leaving the captaincy to batsman Tom Latham — and providing plenty of opportunity for newcomers to shine.
While Pakistan’s top cricketers featured in the inaugural edition of the multibillion-dollar IPL in 2008, they have been barred since — mirroring the frosty diplomatic relations between the neighbours.
Pakistan and New Zealand will also meet in five one-day internationals after the T20 series, honing preparations for this year’s 50-over World Cup in India.
Pakistan, runners-up to England in last year’s Twenty20 World Cup in Australia, welcome back skipper Babar Azam and key players Mohammad Rizwan, Fakhar Zaman, Shaheen Shah Afridi and Haris Rauf. They were rested for the recent losing series against Afghanistan.
Shaheen’s return will be his first international match since injuring his knee in the World Cup final.
Pakistan boast a new backroom team with former New Zealand all-rounder Grant Bradburn taking head coach duties for the 10 matches from Abdur Rehman.
New sensation Ihsanullah, who goes by only one name and bowls at a ferocious 150 kilometres an hour, kept his place despite the disastrous loss against Afghanistan, along with opener Saim Ayub and pacer Zaman Khan.
“We have a good squad that marries the exuberance of youth and the experience of senior cricketers,” skipper Azam said on Thursday, adding they would not take a weakened Black Caps side lightly.
“International cricket demands full commitment and that’s what we are focused on,” he said. “We are going to bring our ‘A’ game and keep ourselves focused for good results.”
New Zealand’s interim coach Shane Jurgensen is in confident mood despite missing so many players.
“It will be a quick turnaround from the fantastic series win against Sri Lanka,” said Jurgensen of New Zealand’s 2-1 T20 victory.
Former spin-king Saqlain Mushtaq will be Jurgensen’s assistant — just two months after completing his stint as Pakistan’s head coach. “It will be a challenging series,” Jurgensen said.
“Obviously Pakistan are a fantastic team to play in the white-ball format, so it’s a good opportunity to challenge them.”
The tour comes as something of compensation for New Zealand pulling out of their visit to Pakistan on the day of the first game in September 2021, citing security concerns.
The Black Caps played two Tests and three ODIs in Pakistan just three months ago.
The remaining four T20 matches are on April 15 and 17 in Lahore, and 20 and 24 in Rawalpindi.
Pakistan: Babar Azam (captain), Shadab Khan, Faheem Ashraf, Fakhar Zaman, Haris Rauf, Iftikhar Ahmed, Ihsanullah, Imad Wasim, Mohammad Haris, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Rizwan, Naseem Shah, Saim Ayub, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Shan Masood, Zaman Khan
New Zealand: Tom Latham (captain), Chad Bowes, Mark Chapman, Matt Henry, Ben Lister, Adam Milne, Daryl Mitchell, Jimmy Neesham, Rachin Ravindra, Henry Shipley, Ish Sodhi, Will Young, Dane Cleaver, Cole McConchie, Blair Tickner