Mahmood in search of Pakistan's best XI ahead of T20 World Cup 2024

Pakistan head coach Azhar Mahmood said that Pakistan would look to try out different combinations and game plans in the lead-up to the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2024.

Ahead of Pakistan’s home assignment against New Zealand, newly appointed head coach Azhar Mahmood spoke in detail about his squad, player combinations, and strategies.

Pakistan play 12 T20Is – five against New Zealand, three against Ireland, and four against England – in preparations for the ICC Men's T20 World Cup.

The first of these series against the Black Caps sees the return of veterans like Mohammad Amir and Imad Wasim. Both players, who weren’t a part of the Pakistan setup in recent times, reversed their international retirements and made themselves available for the Men in Green.

In the PSL, Amir picked 10 wickets for Quetta Gladiators, while Imad showed exceptional all-round form (126 runs and 12 wickets) to lead Islamabad United to the title.

Mahmood was pleased to have the two experienced campaigners back in Pakistan colours and believes that their returns give his team an edge.

“We cover all aspects of the game with this squad,” Mahmood said. “We’ve two all-rounders, and our fast bowling department is also very strong. The return of (Mohammad) Amir and Imad (Wasim) also gives us an edge, because we can use them at any given time.

“Our batting lineup possesses the best possible talent in Pakistan.”

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Mahmood expressed strong belief in the talent and skill of the Pakistan team, who will be hoping to go one step further after making it to the semi-final and final in the last two editions of the T20 World Cup.

“Our strength is pure talent and skill. We’ve performed decently on the world stage in the format, and we’ve recently featured in the World Cup finals (2022) and semi-finals (2021).

“We know we haven’t won a big tournament since 2009 (Men’s T20 World Cup) or the Champions Trophy (2017). But you can never write off the Pakistan team, especially in the T20 format.”

With Pakistan's squad boasting depth and strength, Mahmood will use the upcoming series to seek clarity on their best possible XI ahead of the global mega-event while also wanting to test their bench.

“We’ve the depth and strength, but there are always areas for improvement. Looking at those aspects, especially in the areas that we’ve lagged behind, is something that I’ve worked on.

“So till the World Cup, we’d like to develop a structure and game plan, to give role clarity to players. In our squad, we’ve young talent Irfan Niazi, Azam (Khan) and Usman Khan. So definitely, we’ve to give these players a look. We need to use our bench strength.

“But at the same time, from the discussion I’ve had, we should be aware of our best XI when we play our first game on 6 June in the T20 World Cup.”

The best of Babar Azam so far at the T20 World Cup

Pakistan’s squad has several top-order options including Babar Azam, Saim Ayub, Usman Khan and Fakhar Zaman. Despite the top-heavy batting lineup, Mahmood believes that there is enough prowess in the middle-order with a balance of touch and explosive hitting.

“We’ve a number of top-order batters, but we’ve played Fakhar Zaman at four before. We’ve brought in Irfan Niazi and Azam into the middle order so that we’ve a good mix of power with deft touch. We have a good mix with these players.”

When questioned about the absence of first-team regulars from New Zealand, Mahmood emphasized that they aren't underestimating the visitors and reiterated that there are no "weak teams" in T20 cricket.

“The New Zealand team that has come might not have their leading players, but it has their future stars. Though they fall short on international experience, but they’ve a lot of domestic T20 experience.

“Even their players would try to put their best foot forward to put up a strong case for selection in the World Cup. There are no weak teams in the T20 format.”

The five-game series kicks off in Rawalpindi on 18 April.

Pakistan squad: Babar Azam (c), Abrar Ahmed, Azam Khan, Fakhar Zaman, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imad Wasim, Abbas Afridi, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohammad Amir, Irfan Khan, Naseem Shah, Saim Ayub, Shadab Khan, Shaheen Afridi, Usama Mir, Usman Khan, Zaman Khan.

Non-travelling reserves: Haseebullah Khan, Mohammad Ali, Mohammad Wasim Jr, Sahibzada Farhan, Salman Ali Agha.

Pakistan are in Group A of the T20 World Cup, alongside India, USA, Ireland and Canada. Their T20 World Cup campaign kicks off against USA in Dallas on 6 June.

NewsICC Men's T20 World Cup, 2024MT20 Cricket World Cup