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Stern test awaits stand-in skipper Shadab Khan against home giants New Zealand
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Stern test awaits stand-in skipper Shadab Khan against home giants New Zealand

Pakistan enter the opening match of their New Zealand tour without one of the most valuable batsmen in world cricket at the moment prompting a last-minute change in leadership against an inexperienced but strong home side.

Pakistan's preparations ahead of the series have been far from ideal as headlines ranging from coronavirus protocol breaches to the confirmation of Covid-19 cases thronged news outlets in the build-up to the T20I assignment.

The troubles for the Pakistan squad began when six positive virus cases were detected in their first round of testing in New Zealand with the exemption to train revoked due to protocol breaches recorded on CCTV footage.

As Pakistan underwent their two-week quarantine period with no access to training facilities, the possibility of a cancelled tour also emerged, though this worst-case scenario was averted.

The problems for Pakistan mounted to the extreme with the news of Babar Azam being ruled out of the T20I clashes after suffering a fractured thumb.

The world No. 2 T20I batsman has been so pivotal to Pakistan's batting exploits, in particular the shortest format, that it seems even ludicrous to imagine a Green Shirts side stepping into the contest with no Babar in the playing XI.

This situation throws a steep challenge at stand-in skipper Shadab Khan, who himself has just recovered from a hamstring strain in the nick of time.

While the star all-rounder has established himself as one of the most potent forces in Pakistan's white-ball set-up in the past year, the leadership experience is going to be a daunting task for Shadab.

His captaincy stint in the domestic National T20 Cup saw him lead Northern to a series of wins signalling he has the potential to be at the helm of affairs for a successful unit. Besides, Shadab will have the expertise of the vast experienced Mohammad Hafeez and Pakistan Super League-winning captain Imad Wasim to assist him through the encounter.

Pakistan have generally retained the core of the T20I side that defeated Zimbabwe at home last month except for the new inductees Hussain Talat and Sarfaraz Ahmed vying for a comeback.

Sarfaraz's chances to pip Mohammad Rizwan for the wicketkeeper's slot appears to be slim but Talat could certainly bolster Pakistan's middle-order depth after proving his mettle in the domestic circuit.

Pakistan's challengers, New Zealand also have a captain with a stand-role as Mitchell Santner will be taking charge of the team.

Plenty of new faces populate the New Zealand squad for the first T20I as the more familiar seniors will join the team in due course for the remaining matches.

Despite announcing an unseasoned side, New Zealand will start out as favourites considering their dominant exhibition against West Indies recently.

They seem to have cracked the white-ball code perfectly with the likes of Scott Kuggelejin and Glenn Phillips excelling in the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) earlier this year.

Squads

New Zealand: Mitchell Santner (capt), Todd Astle, Doug Bracewell, Mark Chapman, Devon Conway, Jacob Duffy, Martin Guptill, Scott Kuggeleijn, Jimmy Neesham, Glenn Phillips, Tim Seifert, Ish Sodhi, Blair Tickner

Pakistan: Shadab Khan (capt), Abdullah Shafique, Faheem Ashraf, Haider Ali, Haris Rauf, Hussain Talat, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imad Wasim, Khushdil Shah, Mohammad Hafeez, Mohammad Hasnain, Mohammad Rizwan, Musa Khan, Sarfaraz Ahmed, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Usman Qadir, Wahab Riaz