Babar Azam will get his first taste of captaincy on Thursday when he leads Pakistan in a warm-up T20 fixture against a Cricket Australia XI in Sydney.
The 25-year-old has replaced Sarfraz Ahmed in the role after Pakistan’s disastrous 3-0 series surrender to a second-string Sri Lankan side on home soil. Despite inheriting a side who have been ranked No1 in the format for the greater part of two years, the challenges in front of Babar are aplenty.
The series loss against Sri Lanka was the third in a row for the Men in Green who suffered defeats to England and South Africa previously. With no T20I series win to show for in the entirety of 2019, Babar and his men need to make a big statement Down Under with just under a year to go until the World Cup in the same country.
Here, we look at the issues Babar and head coach Misbah-ul-Haq will want to resolve in the three-match series against Australia beginning on November 3.
Fakhar Zaman’s horrendous T20 form
The Fakhar Zaman who became the first-ever ODI double-centurion for Pakistan in July last year seems like a completely different player to the left-hander struggling massively in the shortest format for some time now.
His six T20I innings in 2019 have fetched a paltry 48 runs at an average of just eight. The left-handed opener has never really brought his best in the 20-over format but he did show some promise in 2018 with four half-centuries to his name.
The Sri Lanka series defeat was a painful reminder of his waning powers with the bat and Pakistan need him to come good in the upcoming series. If not, it should be time to show Fakhar the door, in T20Is at least, with the talented Abid Ali waiting in the wings.
Handle young Muhammad Musa with care
With as many as four teenaged pacers named in the Pakistan touring squad (both Test and T20s), Pakistan have chosen to go in a truly bold direction. Muhammad Musa is the new name in the T20I outfit with the Islamabad United bowler announcing himself on the big stage by exhibiting some serious pace in PSL 2019.
While Misbah has publicly stated that the youngsters have nothing to lose in Australia, Pakistan need to be wary of rushing them into international cricket. While Musa is no doubt a real prospect for the future, Pakistan first need to nurture fellow 19-year-old Mohammad Hasnain who was handed his international debut at the start of the year.
Hasnain’s ODI appearances have been limited despite making the cut for the 2019 World Cup squad in England. He has played just three T20Is so far with two of them coming in the recent series against Sri Lanka. Like Musa, Hasnain’s pace is electric but the youngster needs to be given more chances after biding most of his time in international cricket on the bench.
Musa’s chance can wait, it is Hasnain who needs the team management’s vote of confidence more urgently.
Be decisive on Irfan and Qadir inclusions
While Misbah has been lauded for giving call-ups to several youngsters, some of his selections for the tour have still left the fans scratching their heads. One is the decision to recall 37-year-old Mohammad Irfan after a three-year absence, while the other is the surprise maiden Pakistan call-up for leg-spinner Usman Qadir.
While Irfan isn’t getting any younger and will be 38 by the time the 2020 World Cup rolls around, Usman had even declared his intentions to qualify for Australia after failing to make his mark in Pakistan’s domestic circuit. The son of Pakistan leg-spin legend Abdul Qadir, Usman had shifted base to Australia last year and hasn’t really set the world alight with his performances for Perth Scorchers in the BBL.
The leggie was even cut from Western Australia’s first-class squad at the end of last season with his Pakistan selection coming out of the blue. Misbah has cited a paucity of wrist-spinners in Pakistan’s domestic pool as the reason behind Usman’s call-up, but that same thinking didn’t do the head coach any favours when he controversially recalled Umar Akmal and Ahmed Shehzad for the Sri Lanka series.
Should Irfan and Usman fail to shine in Australia, Pakistan would be wise to cut their losses early and focus on other options in the next few months.
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