Pakistan begin a whistle-stop tour of Zimbabwe on Sunday with a view to preparing for greater challenges that lie ahead in the coming months.
The two sides will engage in two Twenty20 internationals and three one-day internationals in the space of nine days at Harare Sports Club, in what Pakistan coach Waqar Younis termed a “payback tour” after Zimbabwe became the first team to travel to Pakistan in six years this May.
While Younis remains wary of Zimbabwe’s abilities in their home conditions, he also admitted that Pakistan have one eye on what is to follow.
“We’ve got a very big tour coming up straight after this against England, so this is kind of a preparation,” he said at a press conference on Saturday.
“We had a couple of months layoff before this which we needed after a long tour to Sri Lanka, but I think the boys are fresh and we want to make the most of it.”
Pakistan have included uncapped players Imran Khan jnr, Aamer Yamin and Bilal Asif in their squad for the Twenty20 matches, which take place on Sunday and Tuesday.
With a World Twenty20 coming up next March, Waqar hinted that the new players would receive an opportunity to showcase their skills on the international stage ahead of the 2016 showpiece in India.
“Every team is looking to that World Cup, and that’s what we’re trying to do as well,” he said. “That’s why we’re bringing youngsters in to have a look at them and see what our best team can be for the World Cup.”
Pakistan were originally expected in Zimbabwe last month, and the delay in their arrival allowed the hosts some time off after back-to-back visits by India and New Zealand.
Zimbabwe spent some of it at a team building camp on a game reserve near Gweru, which captain Elton Chigumbura said had cleared the air.
Zimbabwe endured a difficult first half of the year, winning just one of 12 ODIs and also making headlines for the wrong reasons with veteran bowler Prosper Utseya accusing Zimbabwe Cricket (ZCU) managing director Alistair Campbell of racism in a letter to the board.
“I thought we managed to iron out things that were hanging a bit in our team,” said Chigumbura.
“It’s a process, and we’re going to try and implement what we got from Gweru, from the psychologist, and hopefully we can build from there.”
On the field, Zimbabwe’s bowling has been their greatest weakness, particularly at the end of the innings when their opposition has often been allowed to run amok.
“We’ve been working on our fitness, and also finding the combinations to take wickets in the middle overs, which makes things easier for us at the death,” bowling coach Douglas Hondo said.
Zimbabwe squad (T20s and ODIs): Elton Chigumbura (capt), Richmond Mutumbami (wk), Chamu Chibhabha, Craig Ervine, Hamilton Masakadza, Sean Williams, Sikandar Raza, Graeme Cremer, Tinashe Panyangara, Christopher Mpofu, Prosper Utseya, Taurai Muzarabani, Luke Jongwe, John Nyumbu, Malcolm Waller.
Pakistan T20 squad: Shahid Afridi (capt), Ahmed Shehzad, Mukhtar Ahmed, Umar Akmal, Mohammad Hafeez, Sohaib Maqsood, Shoaib Malik, Aamer Yamin, Mohammad Irfan, Bilal Asif, Wahab Riaz, Imad Wasim, Sohail Tanvir, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Imran Khan jnr.