Pakistan captain Babar Azam is focusing on turning around his team’s fortunes in the upcoming two-Test series against New Zealand rather than getting distracted by the sudden shakeup of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) setup.
Former PCB chairman Najam Sethi returned to lead the new 14-member management committee of the board after the government removed Ramiz Raja and also repealed the body’s constitution in the aftermath of Pakistan’s 3-0 loss to England in a Test series last week.
Shahid Afridi was named interim chief selector and the flamboyant former Pakistan captain immediately beefed up the 16-member squad for the Test series against New Zealand by adding three more bowlers.
“Things have changed in the past two, three days and there have been changes, but as a professional you have to face such things,” Babar said on Sunday on the eve of the first Test.
“Our job is to put effort on the ground and our full focus is on how to win the match, how to take a good start in the series and how to do well in all the three departments of the game.”
England’s aggressive style of play, dubbed “Bazball” after coach Brendon McCullum, resulted in Pakistan getting whitewashed at home for the first time in a series featuring three or more games.
Pakistan nearly pulled off a draw in the first Test at Rawalpindi before succumbing to England’s relentless pressure under dimming light on the last day to lose by 74 runs. Babar’s men came close to levelling the series at Multan inside four days before falling to Mark Wood’s pace as England recorded a thrilling 26-run win.
“We could not play the last series the way we wanted and committed small mistakes that left us behind,” Babar said. “To be honest I don’t take pressure … If you take pressure your game goes down. I have belief that it’s a new day, new team and a new match, so things will be different.”
Another slow grassless wicket has been prepared for the first Test with spinners from both sides expected to call the shots as the games progress.
Afridi added off-spinner Sajid Khan, who returns to the squad after missing the last two series against Sri Lanka and England, respectively. Spinner Abrar Ahmed has already made his mark while claiming 17 wickets in two Test matches against England, including figures of 11 for 234 on his Test debut on the slow-turning wicket in Multan.
Fast-bowler Hasan Ali has also been recalled while uncapped fast bowler Shahnawaz Dahani and Mir Hamza, who played his only Test match against Australia four years ago, were also drafted into the expanded 19-member squad.
Like Pakistan, New Zealand was also whitewashed 3-0 by England after McCullum and captain Ben Stokes took charge of the team last summer and promptly routed Kane Williamson’s side. Williamson has now handed the baton of captaincy to Tim Southee, who will be leading the Black Caps for the first time in Tests. Williamson will be back in charge for the ODIs next month.
New Zealand has recalled leg-spinner Ish Sodhi after four years and also has the left-arm spin of Ajaz Patel to pressure Pakistan’s relatively inexperienced batting lineup.
And England’s 3-0 clean sweep has given Southee hope of succeeding in unfamiliar conditions.
“The subcontinent is so foreign to us,” Southee said. “England played an incredible style of cricket … and the way they did was very impressive. We’ll be trying to look for ways that’ll work for us as a side and hopefully we can put in a performance that works for our side. We’re looking forward to the challenge. It’s a new series. I’m sure Pakistan will be looking to bounce back after a tough series.”
New Zealand will also rely on experienced 36-year-old left-arm fast bowler Neil Wagner, who has taken 246 wickets in 59 Test matches and has a better strike rate than Trent Boult, who chose not to tour Pakistan.
“When you come to this part of the world, you tend to think that spinners will have more of an impact,” Southee said. “But England showed that there’s a place for the pace bowlers as well.”
Weather concerns in Multan forced the PCB to stage New Zealand’s first tour to Pakistan since 2003 at Karachi, which will now host both Test matches and all three ODIs.