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Lahore: The first leg of the three-part Bangladesh tour to Pakistan begins today with the three-match T20I series. The matches are to be played on Friday, Saturday and Monday at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore. With the off-field significance of the series - and indeed the tour - discussed over the past couple of weeks, it's time to dissect its importance for the Pakistan cricket team, which is almost facing a must-win scenario, at least in terms of potential augmentation to the already overwhelming critique.

Must-win is hardly a description one would associate for a bilateral series involving the number one ranked side in the world. However, such has been Pakistan's poor run in T20Is over the past 12 months that they've only been clinging on to the top slot after a string of defeats.

Misbah-ul-Haq and Babar Azam

Since beating New Zealand in the T20I series in the UAE in October 2018, Pakistan have lost in South Africa (2-1), in England (1-0), at home against Sri Lanka (0-3) and away to Australia (2-0). That means that Pakistan, who have been the number one ranked side throughout these series, have a solitary win and eight defeats over the past year, with one more T20I rained off in Australia.

That means that not only do Pakistan need a convincing win against Bangladesh to stay at the summit, the series at home needs to go well for the Misbah-ul-Haq led management to gain some respite in the shortest format as well, after winning the Test series against Sri Lanka last month.

Although the rot in the shortest format begun a year ago, the team reached the absolute low under the new management during the clean sweep at the hands of Sri Lanka. Many argue that the selection for the Bangladesh series reflects more than a hint of desperation to return to winning ways, following recalls for Mohammed Hafeez and Shoaib Malik.

Haris Rauf

Pakistan squad: Babar Azam (captain), Ahsan Ali, Amad Butt, Haris Rauf, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imad Wasim, Khushdil Shah, Mohammad Hafeez, Mohammad Hasnain, Mohammad Rizwan, Musa Khan, Shadab Khan, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Shoaib Malik, Usman Qadir

Bangladesh T20I squad: Mahmudullah (captain), Tamim Iqbal, Soumya Sarkar, Naim Sheikh, Najmul Hossain Shanto, Liton Kumer Das, MD Mithun, Afif Hossain Dhrubo, Mahedi Hasan, Aminul Islam Biplob, Mustafizur Rahman, Shafiul Islam, Al-Amin Hossain, Rubel Hossain, Hasan Mahmud

Without wasting any time in digging deeper into critiques of former players who were similarly scathing in their castigation of Misbah when he selected a young squad for Australia, we must look objectively at what the selection for the Bangladesh series suggests.

It is true that the team management needs a win in the T20I format, but recalling Malik and Hafeez also underlines that they've made up their mind on the experienced duo being a part of the World T20 in Australia in October this year - towards which all T20 tournaments, including the much awaited Pakistan Super League 5, will be geared.

Mohammed Hafeez and Shoaib Malik

The other prominent call that Misbah has made has been the axe for Mohammed Amir and Wahab Riaz. Amir's unprofessional - now deleted - tweet suggested that his omission has been owing to his much criticised retirement from Test cricket.

That may or may not be true, but what has become increasingly clearer is how Amir's head has been in the wrong place - since his return from the six year ban, and of course before that as well. His call to retire from Test cricket citing fatigue, while playing franchise T20 leagues at the same time, was always going to come under scrutiny given how Pakistan has invested in him - not just after the ban, but even during his complete loss of form for over a year before almost being forced into selection at last year's World Cup.

A Champions Trophy final spell, and being the pick of the Pakistani bowlers in a mediocre World Cup campaign, is all that Amir has to show in four years since his much heralded return, where he has largely been anonymous. And despite what transpired in these four years, and the six before them, if his priorities lie elsewhere, then the management is making the right call to bud in players willing to put the badge before anything.

That means the excited prospect of Haris Rauf being called up for the T20Is, in addition to the likes of Ahsan Ali and Amad Butt, along with the already present Mohammed Hasnain, Musa Khan and Usman Qadir.

For Pakistan to return to the top of the T20 game, not just on the ranking table but on the field as well, a blend of experience and youth would be needed. Malik and Hafeez can provide the latter till the World Cup, wherein Pakistan breeds much needed limited-overs middle order batting talent.

Misbah has already pointed out that the upcoming PSL would be a great decider for the eventual World T20I shortlist. And everyone who has been dropped or picked recently would be in there to prove themselves.
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Publication:Friday Times of Pakistan (Lahore, Pakistan)
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Jan 25, 2020
Words:836
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