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Pakistan face stern test in Australia as Babar Azam gets ready for first captaincy stint
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Pakistan face stern test in Australia as Babar Azam gets ready for first captaincy stint

A leadership shuffle for Pakistan ahead of the T20I series against Australia puts them in an even more flimsy position following the whitewash at the hands of Sri Lanka last month.

Babar Azam, abruptly thrust into the spotlight as the new Pakistan captain, has a lot riding on his shoulders with his team taking on a rampant Australian side fresh from a spate of victories.

The fact that Australia's thumping wins came against the Sri Lankans recently adds more pressure on their new tourists, who are fighting hard to retain a semblance of their T20 hegemony.

Australia were clinical in all departments in their ruthless show against the island nation as flamboyant opening batsman David Warner enjoyed a terrific outing and finished the series without being dismissed once in three innings.

Glenn Maxwell announced a break from cricketing duties to deal with his mental health problems but the Aussies still possess a wealth of batting firepower to help them clear the large boundaries that present an ominous challenge to Asian sides.

Meanwhile, Pakistan will find positives from their authoritative win over the Chris Lynn-led Cricket Australia XI in the practice game in Sydney.

Leg-spinner Shadab Khan picked up three wickets and the top-order batsmen all got runs on the board – the two facets of Pakistan's gameplan that failed to execute properly during Sri Lanka's visit to Lahore.

Amidst the focus on young blokes in the squad, Pakistan's first T20I against Australia will primarily be a big test for Babar's leadership credentials and his own prolific run in the format.

Speaking on the eve of the match, Babar admitted he missed the presence of former skipper Sarfaraz Ahmed in the side but hoped to carry on his impressive record in T20 cricket.

"Of course, we would miss him [Sarfaraz] a lot. His services for Pakistan are tremendous. He led the team to the number one position and I hope to build on this," he told reporters.

Shedding light on handling the burden of captaincy and maintaining batting excellence, Babar claimed to have a strategy in place that would prove to be beneficial for the team.

"When I will be batting, my focus would only be on making runs but when I will be on the field, I will perform my duties as captain and lead the team," he said.

The aforementioned 'burden' is what most skeptics of the PCB's decision to appoint Babar as skipper are wary of – Pakistan cricket cannot afford its golden boy to witness a dip in form.

Zampa in prime form

Adam Zampa continues to be Australia's first-choice white-ball spinner and his performances of late against Sri Lanka validate the trust shown in him by the selectors.

The leg-spinner snaffled five scalps in the first two games against Sri Lanka, outsmarting batsmen with skillful variations.

With an impressive record against Pakistan, Zampa is likely to play another key role for Australia putting to rest the myth regarding their heavy reliance on pacers.

The giant makes a comeback

Mohammad Irfan's inclusion in Pakistan's T20I squad is definitely one of the most surprising call-ups opted by the selectors.

The tall pacer last featured in an international game three years ago when then-head coach Mickey Arthur took an uncompromising stance on his below-par fitness standards.

The 37-year-old, nevertheless, is set to play the first T20I following an outstanding four-over spell against CA XI that saw him deliver a few searing yorkers.

Although his presence in the field can be a liability at times given his unathletic stature, his utility as a bowler trumps the doubts cast over his abilities.

Squad

Australia: Aaron Finch (c), Ashton Agar, Alex Carey, Pat Cummins, Ben McDermott, Kane Richardson, Steve Smith, Billy Stanlake, Mitchell Starc, Ashton Turner, Andrew Tye, David Warner, Adam Zampa, D'Arcy Short

Pakistan: Babar Azam (c), Imam-ul-Haq, Asif Ali, Fakhar Zaman, Haris Sohail, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imad Wasim, Khushdil Shah, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Hasnain, Mohammad Irfan, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Musa Khan, Shadab Khan, Usman Qadir, Wahab Riaz

#PAKvAUS