Pakistan takes another step out of the wild as international cricket hosts, when it hosts Zimbabwe for its first ODI in a year on Friday, with England and South Africa both touring . The three internationals for a day, when Babar Azam makes his debut as ODI captain, are also Pakistan’s first in the new World Cup Super League, the qualifying process for the World Cup. 50 years in 2023. Pakistan’s rehabilitation, largely shunned by foreigners after a deadly attack on the Sri Lanka team bus in 2009, has accelerated in recent months, in part due to the coronavirus pandemic.
After Pakistan visited England and agreed to travel to South Africa – both hard hit by Covid-19 – the two heavyweights were moved to show their gratitude by studying reciprocal travel. Neither has visited for more than a decade.
Zimbabwe, the West Indies and Bangladesh have all visited Pakistan since the attack, and last year Sri Lanka ended its ten-year absence with a limited tour.
These matches turned out to be Pakistan’s last ODI for a year and they return to Rawalpindi under new captain Azam, also skipper of T20, with hopes of making their first step towards the 2023 World Cup in India.
In the 13-team World Cup Super League, seven teams plus host India will advance to the World Cup. All teams will play four home and four away series, with each game worth 10 points.
Pakistan’s three ODIs and three T20s against Zimbabwe will be played behind closed doors in Rawalpindi, and with the two teams in a bio-secure “bubble”. All of the players have tested negative for the coronavirus.
‘Do not take Zimbabwe lightly’
The series makes Pakistan the third host of international cricket since the coronavirus pandemic.
England hosted the West Indies, Ireland, Pakistan and Australia, while Australia concluded a women’s streak against visitors New Zealand earlier this month.
Azam, who called it an “honor” to lead Pakistan, said Pakistan would not underestimate Zimbabwe despite the apparent disparity between the two teams.
“We will not take Zimbabwe lightly at all,” he said. “For us, every point counts and a convincing victory against Zimbabwe will hold us in good stead for the next series.”
Pakistan, sixth in the ODI rankings to Zimbabwe’s 14th, are the big favorites with a mature batting formation led by Azam and solid bowling, despite resting spearhead Mohammad Amir.
They won 52 of their 59 ODIs against Zimbabwe with just four losses, two without results and one tied game.
Zimbabwe’s off-field issues aside – the International Cricket Council suspended them for three months last year due to political interference – the team are on an eight-game losing streak in ODI.
They have lost 2-0 to the Netherlands, 3-0 to Ireland and 3-0 to Bangladesh since their last ODI, home victory against the United Arab Emirates in April 2019.
“It’s very important for us to play well,” said new skipper Chamu Chibhabha, who captained Zimbabwe in just one game earlier this year.
“The Super League games are very important because we have to qualify for the World Cup, which we missed in 2019.”
Chibhabha, one of six Zimbabwean players on the squad that toured Pakistan in 2015, hopes seasoned all-rounders Elton Chigumbura, Sean Williams, Brendon Taylor and Craig Ervine will shine.
Pakistan: Babar Azam (capt), Haider Ali, Abdullah Shafique, Imam-ul-Haq, Haris Sohail, Abid Ali, Fakhar Zaman, Mohammad Hafeez, Khushdil Shah, Mohammad Rizwan, Iftikhar Ahmed, Faheem Ashraf, Imad Wasim, Rohail Nazir, Shaheen Afridi , Mohammad Hasnain, Haris Rauf, Musa Khan, Wahab Riaz, Usman Qadir, Zafar Gohar.
Zimbabwe: Chamu Chibhabha (capt), Faraz Akram, Ryan Burl, Brian Chari, Tendai Chatara, Elton Chigumbura, Tendai Chisoro, Craig Ervine, Tinashe Kamunhukamwe, Wessley Madhevere, Wellington Masakadza, Carl Mumba, Richmond Mutumbami, Blessing Muzarabani, Richard Nikgaraban Raza , Richard Ngararava, Milton Shumba, Brendan Taylor, Donald Tiripano, Sean Williams.
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