The Pakistan cricket team's much-awaited tour of New Zealand kick-starts from December 18 with a three-match T20I series. Ahead of the series though, the visitors have been dealt a hefty blow with their skipper, Babar Azam, ruled out of all three T20Is owing to a thumb fracture.
Owing to the injury, Babar Azam, who is ranked No.2 in the T20I rankings, has been prohibited from attending his team's net sessions. The Pakistan skipper was coming into this T20I series on the back of a string of good scores.
Notably, he led the Karachi Kings to their maiden Pakistan Super League (PSL) title just over a month ago - scoring consecutive fifties and bagging Man of the Match awards in the tournament's semi-final and final.
With Babar Azam sitting out, Pakistan are likely to make some adjustments to their batting order and even slot in some highly talked about rookies in his position. In this article, we take a look at three players who can play in the Pakistan captain's position during the T20I series against New Zealand.
3 players who can open for Pakistan
1. Haider Ali
The fifth edition of PSL unearthed a sparkling batting talent for Pakistan in Haider Ali. The 20-year old willow-wielder was a revelation in his very first appearance in Pakistan’s landmark T20 league and quickly became one of the success stories. His bravado-like approach towards batting earned him a lot of praise from both former cricketers and analysts.
Ali's staggering run in his maiden Quaid-e-Azam Trophy season - the first-class competition in Pakistan - earned him a call-up to represent Pakistan in the Emerging Teams Asia Cup 2019 that Pakistan went on to win.
Ali also showcased his immense talent in the U-19 Cricket World Cup from where he was eventually drafted by Peshawar Zalmi for the PSL.
It was only a matter of time before Ali got his opportunity to replicate his performances on the international level. He debuted for Pakistan in the 3rd T20I against England and struck an impressive half-century. Ali was the 2nd highest run-scorer for Northern Punjab in the National T20 Cup and amassed 100 runs in the subsequent T20I home series against Zimbabwe.
Ali is someone who will relish playing on the batting-friendly tracks in New Zealand that nurture true bounce. In Babar Azam's absence, he could be a key at the top of the order for Pakistan and would look to provide that early impetus.
2. Abdullah Shafique
Abdullah Shafique is yet another face in Pakistan's battery of young batting prodigies. Born into a cricketing family in Sialkot, Shafique has represented Pakistan's U-19 side in List A games as well as the U-19 Asia Cup. He was drafted by the Multan Sultans for PSL 3 but didn't get a chance to make his PSL debut.
Shafique, who idolizes Ricky Ponting, made his first-class debut in 2019 and scored a scintillating ton while representing Central Punjab under Ahmed Shehzad's captaincy. He was handed his T20 debut in this year's National T20 Cup, where he blasted an unbeaten 102* off just 58 deliveries, thereby becoming the 1st Pakistan player and 2nd cricketer across world cricket to notch up centuries on his first-class and T20 debuts.
He finished as the most prolific run-getter for Babar Azam's team Central Punjab, amassing 358 runs at 44.75 across 10 games.
Shafique's sublime show with the bat earned him a maiden call-up to the national side for Pakistan's T20I series against Zimbabwe. He represented Pakistan in the third and final T20I where he scored 41* off 33 balls to take his team over the line. He will be geared up to latch onto any opportunity that is presented to him on this tour, given the absence of Fakhar Zaman and Babar Azam at the top of the order.
3. Mohammad Rizwan
Mohammad Rizwan, who has become Pakistan's first-choice wicket-keeper across all three formats, is also said to be in contention for the opening spot in the upcoming series against New Zealand.
The 28-year-old does not have a particularly impressive record as far as his T20I record is concerned - averaging under 17 and maintaining a strike rate of under 100 across 23 outings. Recently, however, he has worked on his power-striking ability, something that Pakistan fans got to witness in this year's National T20 Cup.
Notably, Rizwan batted at the top of the order for most of the matches. The change in batting positions bore fruit as he managed to score at a resoundingly quicker rate. He was the 3rd highest run-getter in the tournament, compiling 389 runs at a terrific average of 39 and a strike rate touching 128.
With his batting heroics and exceptional captaincy, Rizwan led his side, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, to the National T20 Cup title. With all his experience, agility and never-say-die approach coming to the fore, Rizwan will be a vital cog in Babar Azam's absence.