New Delhi: Pakistan captain Babar Azam feels like he’s playing a Cricket World Cup at home, even if his lineup is unsettled.
The world’s top-ranked ODI batter — for more than two years — is searching for the right balance for his starting XI going into Pakistan’s opening day-nighter against Netherlands on Friday at Hyderabad.
Babar was in good touch despite Pakistan’s losses in warm-up games to New Zealand and Australia, scoring 80 and an unbeaten 90. Mohammad Rizwan, Saud Shakeel and Iftikhar Ahmed were also among the runs as Pakistan went close to 350-run marks in both games before finishing on the wrong side of the results.
“We are here for a week in Hyderabad, so we do not feel like we are in India, it’s like we are at home,” Babar said of the central Indian city, which has a large population of Muslim people, during a pre-tournament news conference.
The six-week tournament was opening Thursday with a rematch of the 2019 final between England and New Zealand.
Babar and his teammates were given a warm reception when they arrived in India after they were issued visas less than 36 hours prior to their departure from Lahore.
“We received good hospitality, and we were not expecting this, but I think the way people responded to us, everyone enjoyed it,” Babar said. “I think it’s a golden opportunity for everyone to give 100% and enjoy the tournament.”
While Babar has almost sorted out his middle-order batters, there are still plenty of holes left in the shaping up the XI. Opening batter Fakhar Zaman is struggling for form, vice-captain Shadab Khan is still looking for the right lengths on batting-friendly wickets and the biggest question is over who will share the new ball with Shaheen Afridi in the absence of injured Naseem Shah.
Recalled fast bowler Hasan Ali could be the solution for Babar with the new ball, but the paceman didn’t excel in the two warmup games. Pakistan did try out Haris Rauf with the new ball, but his figures blew out to 1-97 against Australia.
The tall legspinner Usama Mir was the most impressive of the three spinners — better than Shadab and left-arm spinner Mohammad Nawaz at times — in the warmups. The form of Usama could give Babar some selection headaches.
Netherlands had a remarkable entry into the World Cup after sensationally beating the two-time champion West Indies in a Super Over in the qualifying tournament at Zimbabwe in July and then advancing over Scotland.
The likes of Logan van Beek, Bas de Leede, Max O’Dowd, Roelof van der Merwe and captain Scott Edwards all contributed in lifting their team to the main event.
The Dutch go into the opening game against Pakistan with little match practice. The rain-shortened warmup game against Australia saw their top-order rolled by paceman Mitchell Starc and then their other practice game was completely washed out against India because of torrential rains.
The brilliant all-round heroics of van Beek ended the West Indies’ hopes in qualifying and the Dutch have plenty of firepower in the powerplay with O’Dowd and Vikramjit Singh scoring at a brisk pace against fast bowlers. De Leede, whose father Tim, also played at the World Cup, also performed against the fast bowlers.
They have two dependable spinners — Colin Ackermann and van der Merwe — who could also score down the lower order.
Netherlands, which ended South Africa’s hopes of qualifying for the semi-finals in the last Twenty20 World Cup, has fielded one of its strongest teams in the 50-over World Cup, and surely will be reckoning on one or two upsets.