Lahore: Pakistan captain Babar Azam knows very well that only a clean sweep against Bangladesh can help his country retain the No 1 ranking in T20 internationals when they meet in the first of the three-match series on Friday.
“When you think that you have to retain the No 1 spot, every match is do or die for us,” Babar said Thursday. “We have planned accordingly, we have talked to the players that they should give 110% to retain this No 1 ranking.”
Pakistan has been at the top of rankings since January 2018 with 270 points despite winning only one out of nine completed T20Is last year.
A 3-0 rout at the hands of second-string Sri Lanka — also in Lahore late last year — saw Babar take over the captaincy from Sarfaraz Ahmed. But Babar, the No 1-ranked batsman in T20Is, struggled in his debut series as captain when Australia beat Pakistan 2-0.
Pakistan will lose its No 1 ranking if it doesn’t beat Bangladesh 3-0. Even a 2-1 victory will see Australia pushing Pakistan to second.
Chief selector Misbah-ul-Haq, who is also the head coach, has recalled ageing all-rounders Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez after Babar suggested that he needed the experience of both players.
Hafeez has been out of the T20I team since playing his last match in November 2018, while Malik, who has played 111 T20Is, hasn’t played in the shortest format for Pakistan for almost one year.
“They are senior players and their presence in the team will help me,” Babar said.
Pakistan dropped experienced bowlers Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz and brought in uncapped pace sensation Haris Rauf, who took 16 wickets in the Big Bash League in Australia. Shaheen Afridi, with 14 wickets in T20Is, is the most experienced pace bowler. There are also two other young fast bowlers, Mohammad Hasnain and Mohammad Musa.
The tour was only finalised last week when Bangladesh agreed to split the T20I series and the two ICC World Test Championship matches in three phases after the national cricket boards reached consensus in Dubai in a meeting facilitated by the International Cricket Council (ICC) chairman Shashank Manohar.
Bangladesh will return for the first Test in Rawalpindi from 7 to 11 February. After a break of almost two months, Bangladesh will play an ODI and the second Test in Karachi from 3 to 9 April.
Late last year, Sri Lanka also split its tour to Pakistan in two phases when it played a T20I series in Lahore and then returned in December for two Test matches in Rawalpindi and Karachi.
Bangladesh’s experienced wicketkeeper-batsman, Mushfiqur Rahim, is the only notable absentee from the tour after he pulled out of both T20Is and the two-Test matches because of security concerns. But Bangladesh captain said the team is focused on playing "good cricket" against Pakistan.
“We left it (security concerns) when we boarded the plane,” Mahmudullah said. “We are just thinking about playing good cricket in Pakistan, it’s good to be back here and we are looking forward to a good show.”
Mahmudullah said he doesn’t believe in the rankings and hoped all his players are in good form after competing in the recent Bangladesh Premier League.
“If you think about those ratings, probably it might affect your game so we’re not thinking about those things,” Mahmudullah said. “We know that Pakistan is a very good strong team ... but if you see our T20I performance graph, it’s been going good for the last few series.”
Bangladesh recalled experienced opening batsman Tamim Iqbal and also has the bowling experience of Mustafizur Rahim and Robel Hossain to combat Pakistan’s strong batting line up.
“It’s a mix of youth and experienced players," Mahmudullah said. "We need to think about our games individually and team-wise so that we can perform really well.”
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Most of the top-order batters, except for opener Mohammad Rizwan (33), struggled but the experienced Malik (26 not out off 20 balls) and number seven Ali (27 not out off 12) flourished towards the end with a 48-run partnership for the sixth wicket to take Pakistan home with eight balls to spare.