After a lot of hiccups, Bangladesh is finally touring Pakistan while supporting the tireless efforts of Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) for keeping international cricket alive in the country. The first phase of the tour, containing three T20Is, to start from January 24 in Lahore.
The shorter format series is expected to be a high-octane competition among the two rivals, taking on each other in a 20-over format for the first time after T20 World Cup 2016. Pakistan will be in the ground with an upper hand as they had won that last contest.
However, it won’t be too easy for Pakistan as they are on a point where a single loss can take them down in ICC T20I ranking. If Pakistan wins all three matches, they will retain their top rank but If they win the series 2-1, they will drop down to the second spot. 3-0 in favor of Bangladesh will hugely cost the green shirts as they will then have to deal with third spot.
Meanwhile, the team will definitely have the memories of their last T20I series at the same ground, a nightmare for number one T20I ranked team as Sri Lanka’s stand-in squad thrashed the home side 3-0. The series defeat followed immense criticism on the team who went with a few controversial changes and a newly appointed young captain Babar Azam. Then, Australia beat Pakistan 2-0 which continued losing streak.
Now, the pressure is on and the team’s selection clearly shows that team management is finding ways to sort out differences in the performance. Misbah looks tired of listening to criticism as people are still calling him a ‘Parchi’, holding two of the main posts in the team. Hence, he has finally called Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez, once nowhere in the plan and now the whole team is relying on them following their experience.
Malik and Hafeez, not in the central contracts, will be eying an all-important T20 World Cup later this year. If they perform in this series and in the upcoming fifth edition of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) then most likely for them to get in Pakistan’s World Cup contingent.
On the other hand, while looking at both the team’s squads, a blend of experience and youngsters is clearly seen. Starting up with Pakistan, so they have made five changes omitting experienced pace duo of Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz, opening pair of Fakhar Zaman and Imam-ul-Haq and middle-order batsman Haris Sohail.
However, the inclusion of young opener Ahsan Ali, pacer Haris Rauf and all-rounder Imad Butt has caught immense limelight since the squad had been announced. Ahsan, who represents Quetta Gladiators in PSL, brings an experience of 41 T20s. He has scored 949 runs at an average of 23.72 and also has a strong power-hitting ability.
Rauf, the star performer in the Big Bash League (BBL) for Melbourne Star, will be a treat to watch as the 26-year-old is capable of bowling at over 150Kph. Whereas, Butt is expected to fill in as an all-rounder in the team. He has good track record with the bowl as he has taken 49 wickets in 36 T20s.
Skipper Babar Azam will be eyeing to get off the mark with his captaincy and batting too. The right-handed batsman averages 50.17 in T20Is. Khushdil Shah and Iftikhar Ahmed will fill in the places as a power-hitters.
Young pace battery containing Shaheen Shah Afridi, Musa Khan, Mohammad Husnain and Haris Rauf will be challenging for Bangladesh.
Mahmudullah led Bangladesh will be supported by experienced Tamim Iqbal, Liton Das, Soumya Sarkar in batting. The Bangladeshi tigers will be without their main wicket-keeper batsman Mushfiqur Rahim, who decided to not tour Pakistan citing family issues, but they have enough options to go with.
Shafiul Islam, Al-Amin Hossain, and Rubel Hossain will be their key bowlers against the home side.
Rankings pressure remains still for Pakistan, especially in front of home crowd in Lahore. Pakistan will definitely go with an aggressive approach, let’s see how things go on for the green shirts.