LAHORE   -  Pakistan will take on Zimbabwe in the first One-Day International (ODI) of three-match series in Rawalpindi today (Friday) with the ICC Cricket World Cup Super League at stake. 

Cricket in Pakistan resumes with the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup Super League matches against Zimbabwe. Only three out of 13 countries have initiated their 2023 World Cup campaign so far and Pakistan vs Zimbabwe is the first series being played in Asia amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium, which last hosted the ODI in 2006, will host the entire series, which include three ODIs and as many Twenty20 Internationals. 

The hosts enjoy a winning streak against Zimbabwe with 18 wins out of the 19 games played in the last six home series, which provides captain Babar Azam the confidence to commence the campaign in great style. Babar is the only player on either sides among the top-ranked batters and bowlers. 

Besides captain Babar Azam, left-handed opener Imam ul Haq has a good chance to make a return to the top 10 as he is just two points behind England’s Jonny Bairstow. Fakhar Zaman is four places behind Imam in the 15th position, while Haris Sohail (32nd) and Mohammad Hafeez (44th) will be others in the focus from the rankings perspective. 

With Mohammad Amir out of the team, fellow left-arm fast bowler Shaheen Afridi will be leading Pakistan bowling attack, who will be backed by the bowlers like Imad Wasim, Wahab Riaz, Haris Rauf, Musa Khan or Usman Qadir. 

The hosts are without newly-appointed vice-captain Shadab Khan after he suffered a leg injury in the intra-squad warm-up match in Lahore. He will be monitored over the week and is expected to be available for the remainder of the series. Babar Azam will lead the national ODI side for the first time since being appointed as permanent skipper over a year ago. 

Zimbabwe too have a new skipper in 34-year-old all-rounder Chamu Chibhabha. The team will be eager to make a mark despite their head coach Lalchand Rajput giving the series a skip. Former international and current bowling coach, Douglas Hondo will take over as head coach for the series. Zimbabwe last played an ODI in Pakistan in 2015. However, the two teams played a full-fledged five-match ODI series in Zimbabwe in 2018. The visitors will want to improve their questionable record in the country in this format. 

Pakistan skipper Babar Azam believes players needed to be backed as to bring out their performances, saying they would try to give 110 percent in the series against Zimbabwe. “My philosophy is that if you support and back your players, they will give their 110 percent efforts for you. We have included youngsters and will try to play a good combination of youngsters and seniors,” he said this during a virtual press conference held here on Thursday. 

“We have kept Usman Qadir instead of leg-spinner Shadab Khan, who had suffered from stiffness in his left upper-leg during the first intra-squad warm-up match in Lahore. Currently the focus is on the ODI series and when the Twenty20s will come, we will see to that. This is a very important series and you can’t take Zimbabwe or any international team easy. Zimbabwe has got good experienced players and we will try to give our best,” he added. 

Zimbabwe captain Chamu Chibhabha said after playing for couple of years and with the bit of experience it was the perfect time for him to lead the national side. “Hopefully, we will have a really good series against Pakistan. Over the years, we have been a team that doesn’t really quite get over the line but it’s something we have talked about. In the squad, there is a lot more desperation to win and that is the mentality at the moment and considering the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup Super League every game is curial for us,” he said. 

The visitors captain said the guys were more excited about playing and not about the bio-secure bubble due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “I think it’s fantastic. The super league is a blessing and it also gives us an opportunity that if you play really good cricket then you can qualify for the World Cup. We would try to put the Pakistani bowlers’ under-pressure and play aggressively because if you see the ODI cricket, the scores have been ranging around 300 and 300 plus so those were the targets we were looking to set,” he asserted. 

SQUADS (PROBABLES) 

PAKISTAN: Imam ul Haq, Abid Ali, Fakhar Zaman, Babar Azam (capt), Haris Sohail, M Rizwan, Iftikhar Ahmed, Khushdil Shah, Faheem Ashraf, Imad Wasim, Usman Qadir, Wahab Riaz, Shaheen Afridi, Haris Rauf and Musa Khan. 

ZIMBAWE: Brian Chari, Tinashe Kamunhukamwe, Chamu Chibhabha (capt), Craig Ervine, Brendan Taylor (wk), Sean Williams, Wesley Madhevere, Elton Chigumbura, Sikandar Raza, Wellington Masakadza, Carl Mumba, Donald Tiripano and Blessing Muzarabani.