The 2009 champion Pakistan is aiming to tick all the right boxes in its preparation phase ahead of the Twenty20 Cricket World Cup as it gears up for the five-match series under comeback captain Babar Azam against an understrength New Zealand.

Rawalpindi will host the first three games from Thursday. The remaining two games will be staged at Lahore on April 25 and 27 as both squads build up to the world tournament being staged in the United States and Caribbean in June.

Babar returns as white-ball captain and will lead the squad for the third successive T20 World Cup. He replaces Shaheen Shah Afridi, who lost to the Black Caps 4-1 earlier this year in his maiden series as Pakistan’s T20 skipper.

Babar led Pakistan to the semifinals of the T20 World Cup in 2021 in the United Arab Emirates, where it lost to eventual champion Australia, and also skippered the side beaten by England at Melbourne in the 2022 edition.

Fast bowler Mohammad Amir and allrounder Imad Wasim have come out of retirements to give Pakistan plenty of selection options after express fast bowler Haris Rauf was ruled out of the series due to shoulder injury and Mohammad Nawaz was dropped.

Selectors rewarded several performers from the Pakistan Super League, including uncapped Usman Khan and Irfan Khan.

Usman was banned by the UAE for five years after switching allegiance to his country of birth. He came into contention for Pakistan’s T20 World Cup squad after smashing back-to-back centuries for Multan Sultans in the PSL.

“We have a very balanced side and we have covered all the aspects of the game in this squad,” said Azhar Mahmood, head coach for the series against New Zealand. “Definitely, with the comeback of Amir and Imad we have an edge and we can use them any time.”

Mahmood was appointed on ad-hoc basis as Pakistan is still searching for a long-term head coach ahead of the T20 World Cup.

Pakistan is also scheduled to play a three-match T20 series in Ireland next month and another four matches against England are lined up before the team flies out to America.

Mahmood said he wants to give clarity of roles to the players during the series against New Zealand and could also rest key players, including Babar, to test the depth of the squad.

“Definitely, it is quite possible we might give rest to Babar,” Mahmood said. “It’s the best available talent we have picked. We will see how the series goes and what the conditions are.”

Black Caps under-strength and under pressure

The core of New Zealand’s World Cup-bound squad, including captain Kane Williamson, Daryl Mitchell and Lockie Ferguson, is playing in the Indian Premier League. Also missing from the Pakistan tour will be veteran Tim Southee, who was rested, and Tom Latham was given paternity leave.

New Zealand’s squad was further depleted when power-hitter Finn Allen and fast bowler Adam Milne were ruled out because of injuries sustained during a training camp last week.

The Black Caps will be led by Michael Bracewell, who hasn’t played an international game since March 2023 after rupturing his right Achilles during the T20 Blast and then breaking a finger.

Mark Chapman, who scored 290 runs in a drawn T20 series in Pakistan last year, hoped players such as fast bowler Will O’Rourke and power-hitter Tim Robertson will do well.

“Any team that plays for New Zealand is a team that’s extremely proud to be representing our country,” Chapman said. “It’s an amazing opportunity to show the depth that we’re building.

“Obviously the team generally has been pretty settled, but behind the scenes, there’s a lot of talent.

“The young guys like Ben Sears, Will O’Rourke have played this year in test cricket and really impressed. Also, Tim Robertson was outstanding this year in the Super Smash and the guys are really excited because they know that (they’re playing) a full-strength Pakistan team.”

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