World’s number one T20I batsman will captain Pakistan for the first time in front of his home fans
Pakistan captain Babar Azam will be in the spotlight on Friday as he steps out onto the field to captain Pakistan in the three-match T20I series against Bangladesh at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, a venue where 13 years ago he served as a ball-picker in the second Test between Pakistan and South Africa.
The 25-year-old, since making his international debut in September 2016, has moved to the top of the ICC batting charts following his consistent performance in the shortest format of the game against all opposition in different conditions.
He is only the second batsman in circuit with an average of over 50 in Twenty20 Internationals. He has scored 1,405 runs in 36 matches at an average of 50.17 and only India’s Virat Kohli is above him, averaging 52.72 after scoring 2,689 runs in 78 matches.
Appointed Pakistan captain in September 2019, this will be the first time the Lahore-born star will captain his country in front of his home crowds. He previously led Pakistan in Australia where his side was swept aside 2-0 in a three-match series, but he still managed to standout by striking two half-centuries.
“It seems like yesterday when I walked every day for almost three miles to get to the Gaddafi Stadium and work as a ball-boy for the 2007 second Test between Pakistan and South Africa,” Babar was quoted as saying by pcb.com.pk. “It was the love for the game and the attraction of some of the stalwarts like Inzamam-ul-Haq, Younis Khan, Mohammad Yousuf, Misbah-ul-Haq, Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis and Dale Steyn that pulled me to the home of Pakistan cricket without caring for anything else.”
“For me, it was the incentive of being closer to Test cricket and legends of the game. Pats on the back and smiles from the Test players during that match were my ultimate rewards. For any youngster, it is certainly once in a lifetime experience,” he added.
The right-handed batsman also spoke about his successful cricketing journey so far.
“I think it was that passion, combined with a bid of cricket madness and stroke of luck that has helped me to become who I am today. I have been very fortunate that in this journey, people have held my hand, coached and mentored me, and always stood beside me in my good and bad days,” he said. “I owe all my success to all those unsung heroes and now it is my responsibility to continue to strive for excellence so that I can match the expectations, both as a player and captain.”
Bangladesh's cricket team arrived in Pakistan late Wednesday on a tour only finalised after wrangling over security concerns.
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The Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) had initially refused to play Tests in the country, saying they were only willing to take part in Twenty20s after Dhaka granted permission just for a short tour, their first since 2008.
But two days later, a meeting between Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman Ehsan Mani and BCB president Nazmul Hassan, with mediation by International Cricket Council (ICC) chairman Shashank Manohar in Dubai, led to a agreement for a tour in three phases.
"Security won't be on our mind at all, we left that when we boarded the plane in Bangladesh. We're just thinking about playing good cricket in Pakistan, it's good to be back here and we're looking forward to putting on a good show,” said visiting team skipper Mahmudullah.
"We didn't experience this sort of reception (before). I'm loving it at the moment. Security wise, I think Pakistan is probably providing us the best security they can have so I'm happy with all the arrangements,” he added.
Bangladesh will play three Twenty20 internationals — all in Lahore on Friday, Saturday and Monday before returning home.
They will come back twice for two Tests — in Rawalpindi from February 7-12 and then in Karachi from April 3-9.
This is Bangladesh's first tour to Pakistan in 12 years, having last played a five-match one-day series and Asia Cup — both in 2008.
The team, led by all-rounder Mahmudullah Riyadh, was whisked off to a hotel in central Lahore under heavy security.
Some 10,000 policemen and para-military personnel will guard the team from hotel to the Gaddafi stadium for the three matches and practice sessions.
Former captain and senior batsman Mushfiqur Rahim withdrew from the tour over security fears.
ALSO READ: Mushfiqur Rahim explains his decision to skip Pakistan tour
Pakistan have gradually hosted international cricket after visits were suspended in 2009 following attacks on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore, which left eight people dead and several visiting players injured.
Pakistan: Babar Azam (captain), Ahsan Ali, Amad Butt, Haris Rauf, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imad Wasim, Khushdil Shah, Mohammad Hafeez, Mohammad Hasnain, Mohammad Rizwan (wicketkeeper), Musa Khan, Shadab Khan, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Shoaib Malik and Usman Qadir
Bangladesh: Mahmudullah (captain), Tamim Iqbal Khan, Soumya Sarkar, Naim Sheikh, Najmul Hossain, Litton Das, MD Mithun, Afif Hossain, Mahadi Hasan, Aminul Islam Biplob, Mustafizur Rahman, Shafiul Islam, Al-Amin Hossain, Rubel Hossain and Hasan Mahmud.