Pakistan captain Babar Azam has set their sights on sweeping Zimbabwe in the one-day international series that opens their World Cup Super League campaigns from Friday.
The International Cricket Council has introduced the league to bring context to ODI cricket. The seven leading teams in the league will directly qualify for the 2023 Cricket World Cup in India. The league features 13 countries playing four home and away three-match ODI series.
“We will try to whitewash them (Zimbabwe) by playing according to our strength,” Babar said by video on Thursday at Pindi Cricket Stadium.
Pakistan boasts just one ODI loss against Zimbabwe in the last 19 games. The streak includes a 2-0 win at home in 2015 when Zimbabwe became the first full ICC member to tour Pakistan since the 2009 terrorist attack on the Sri Lanka team in Lahore.
Pakistan suffered a setback when Babar’s deputy, Shadab Khan, was ruled out of Friday’s opening match because of a leg injury the allrounder sustained during an intra-squad match in Lahore last week.
Uncapped Usman Qadir was in the 15-man squad for the first ODI as cover for Khan, and Babar hopes the legspinning son of the great Abdul Qadir will play up to his domestic standards.
Young fast bowler Musa Khan was also in the squad as backup to frontline pacemen Wahab Riaz and Shaheen Afridi.
As part of the coronavirus protocols, the games will be without spectators and the teams are in a bio-secure bubble in Rawalpindi and confined to their hotel. They are allowed outside the hotel only for scheduled practices and matches.
“Personally, for me, being in a bio bubble has been one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to go through,” Zimbabwe captain Chamu Chibhabha said. “But it’s COVID-19 time, so we have to do what we have to do to get some cricket.”
Chibhabha said that from the team’s perspective, the bubble was giving them an opportunity to bond.
“The bubble is not all just negative and frustrating,” he said. “I know we’re separated from our families, but it kind of bonds us together, most of the time we celebrate birthdays, get into the team room and play games.”
Chibhabha has played 104 ODIs without a hundred. His top score of 99 came during the last series in Pakistan in 2015.
The captain hoped they will be more than competitive against Pakistan.
“We’ve been a team that doesn’t really quite get over the line,” Chibhabha said. “There’s a lot more desperation to win. and considering its super league games, each game that we play is going to be very crucial for us, so we’re not just going out there to compete, we want to win games.”
Zimbabwe has the experienced Brendan Taylor, Sikander Raza and Elton Chigumbura to bolster their batting. Fast bowler Blessing Muzarabani is also appearing for the first time since the 2018 home series against Pakistan.
The three ODIs will be followed by three Twenty20s also at Rawalpindi from 7-10 November.
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The 35-year old played his last Test against Zimbabwe in Harare in July this year with Bangladesh recording a 220-run win.
The fact that star players Shakib Al Hasan and Tamim Iqbal are sidelined added to a lack of confidence in the camp after losing eight straight Twenty20 internationals, meaning Pakistan will start as overwhelming favourites.
Babar's side stormed through the Super-12 phase of the Dubai tournament with five straight victories before a shock five-wicket loss to eventual winners Australia in the semi-final.