Pak vs Zim, 2021 – Misbah-ul-Haq open to trying out new faces but winning the series remains priority
Head coach says he doesn’t want to give “gutsy” Zimbabwe a weak link to exploit
After winning both ODI and T20I series against South Africa, Pakistan may find Zimbabwe a relatively weaker opponent, but head coach Misbah-ul-Haq stands guarded against complacency. On the eve of the first T20I in Harare, Misbah said he doesn’t want to give “gutsy” Zimbabwe a weak link to exploit by trying out too many new faces at once.
Pakistan have two uncapped fast bowlers, Mohammad Wasim junior and Arshad Iqbal, in the squad to go along with the experienced Shaheen Shah Afridi, Harris Rauf, Faheem Ashraf, Hasan Ali and Mohammad Nawaz. In the batting department, Sharjeel Khan and Danish Aziz are the standbys.
“When you carry a bench alongside, you obviously want to give them chances,” Misbah said. “But it’s more important to understand that you don’t want to make needless changes just for the sake of change. Whoever is giving advice [from the outside] is not going to take the responsibility.
“They urge us to play the entire bench [at once] and replace the already settled players but if things go wrong, they won’t be held accountable for it. It will all come down to the captain and team management. But we will definitely do the rotation and play one or two younger players but we will play them in combination, blending them with the settled line-up because you also want to win the series. You make a combination ensuring you are not losing your strength and not comprising the chance of winning.”
Given they have won each of their 14 T20Is against Zimbabwe, Pakistan start as clear favourites. But Misbah is wary of the opponents playing with a mindset of nothing to lose and hurting Pakistan in the process.
“If you compare, there is an obvious difference between the two teams,” Misbah said. “But more importantly whenever Zimbabwe play, they have nothing to lose and got no pressure on them. Zimbabwe is a gutsy team. They play everything in Harare mostly and have a clear idea of their home conditions. They are always hunting for one weak link in the opponents and use it to create a chance for themselves and take the game away.
“I am aware of it as everything is at stake for us. Pressure normally is on the teams who are playing against them, so we will have to play our best cricket. In South Africa, the conditions and level of the opponents were totally different, so there was a different intensity and both sides had a lot at stake.”
The three-match series against Zimbabwe is another step for Pakistan towards finalising their combination for the T20 World Cup in India later this year, especially their middle-order batters. Misbah has a squad of 17 at his disposal to do that but he said he would be keeping an eye on the PSL as well.
“This series will be giving us a good understanding about where we are standing and how we are to go about ahead of the T20 World Cup. I can’t say much about the future but to strengthen our middle order, we are still open to trying out more players.
“We are expecting the younger players to step up in the role but if it doesn’t go according to the plan, then expect a few changes and I don’t think there should be a problem with it. We have the PSL coming up and if we see anyone doing good in it and who has done well in past, then we can pick him. The combination we will carry for England series will be the closest and most likely the one we will be taking for the World Cup in India.”
Talking about Afridi’s workload, Misbah dispelled the idea to rest him: “The whole world is more worried about his workload than us. Obviously, we have all the data recorded from his practice and matches and how much he needs to bowl, and how to manage him. We are monitoring everything and if he requires, he will definitely be rested.”
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo’s Pakistan correspondent