Kolkata: A lot of attention will be rivetted on Babar Azam, who carries Pakistan’s hopes of regaining the T20 World Cup title as their captain and premier batsman, as the seventh edition of the event gets underway in Oman and the UAE on Sunday. They had won the title once under Younis Khan’s captaincy in the 2009 edition.
A soft-spoken personality who is all grace and timing with the bat in hand, Azam however showed the leader in him when he backed the recent changes brought about by the selectors - which paved the way for inclusion of left-handed opener Fakhar Zaman, allrounder Shoaib Malik and Haider Ali.
Addressing a virtual press conference hosted by the International Cricket Council (ICC) on the eve of the event, Azam said: “Some players were not in a fine touch during the domestic tournament National T20 Cup. Changes were made to the squad since some players were not able to perform well.”
Azam, who held the ICC No.1 batsman’s ranking in T20s for long, welcomed the inclusion of the the trio. ‘‘Malik’s experience will be an seet and he is still one of the fittest members of the squad. However, we have to make a plan on including him in the playing XI,’’ he said, adding: “We also took part in a training camp after the National T20 Cup,” he said. “All the players were grouped there so it benefited us.”
Asked about the pressure of leading his country for the first time in a major ICC event, Azam admitted it would be quite a challenge. “Captaining the team in a mega event is a challenging role for me,” he acknowledged.
Speaking about conditions in the UAE, Azam said all his team members played a lot of cricket here but the team has to put their best foot forward in all three departments of the game. While Babar may be making his debut as captain in an ICC event, he enjoys a win ratio of more than 50% having led Pakistan in 28 matches and winning 15 of those encounters.
“We know the pressure and the high intensity of each game, especially the first one. Hopefully, we can win the match and carry the momentum forward.”
No prizes for guessing, Azam is referring to their opening match - the blockbuster clash against India on October 24. Pakistan are yet to defeat India in a World Cup match across both ODIs and T20Is, but Azam wants no baggage from the past.
“Your belief and confidence as a group matter a lot before a tournament,” he said earlier on the eve of the squad’s departure for Dubai. “As a team, our confidence and morale are really high. We are not thinking of the past but the future. We are preparing for that. I am fully confident that we are well prepared and will play good cricket on the day.
“We’ve been playing cricket in UAE for years and we know the conditions really well,” said Azam. “We know how the wicket will behave and the adjustments batters will have to make. On the day who plays the better cricket, wins the match. If you ask me, we will win.”
Pakistan have a stellar record in this format at the Dubai International Stadium, where their opener against India will take place. Since 2016, Pakistan have played six T20Is at the venue and are undefeated.