Lahore welcomes Bangladesh as Pakistan look to end T20I rut
Pakistan have lost eight of their last 10 T20Is, including a series defeat to Sri Lanka last October
The sight of Bangladesh players walking down from their chartered aircraft at the Allama Iqbal Airport in Lahore, late on Wednesday evening, was an assuring sign for cricket lovers from both countries. Not too long ago, the tour was nearly called off after the BCB stuck to their position of only playing T20Is, while Pakistan sent a fresh proposal of only Tests.
But it all changed dramatically when, over the course of a meeting in Dubai last week in the presence of ICC chairman Shashank Manohar, the two parties reached a deal. Bangladesh are on the first of three legs of touring Pakistan over the next three months, this time to only play the T20Is.
Bangladesh will be without Mushfiqur Rahim, who opted out of the tour due to his family's concerns, while five members of the coaching staff have also been excluded from the travelling party. It has unquestionably made Bangladesh a lesser side, with added responsibility on Tamim Iqbal and captain Mahmudullah. Bangladesh have an experienced pace attack to call upon, but lack a genuine spinner. The batting line-up has form, but needs careful organising and reshuffling.
Bangladesh performed admirably in the T20Is in India in November, where only a sensational Deepak Chahar spell stood between them and a famous series win. The same cannot be said about Pakistan, however. They have lost eight of their last ten T20Is, including a series defeat to Sri Lanka at home in October last year.
In the need to improve their record, the coach and chief selector Misbah-ul-Haq has included some newcomers like Amad Butt, Ahsan Ali and Haris Rauf, as well as veterans Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik to beef up the batting line-up.
Pakistan LLLLL (last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Sixteen wickets at a strike-rate of exactly ten, economy rate of 6.89 and 11.56 bowling average in the BBL has not only landed Haris Rauf a place in the Pakistan T20I side, but his tape-ball to BBL story has made fans quite excited to see him bowl at home.
Mohammad Naim's 81 against India in Bangladesh's last T20I made heads turn, and he followed it up with an impressive BPL campaign for Rangpur Rangers. Naim, too, is a virtual unknown in Bangladesh cricket, but fans have noticed the youngster's unassuming strokeplay.
Pakistan are going with a whole host of changes from the side that last played a T20I. Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik and Shaheen Afridi are likely to return while Ahsan Ali and Haris Rauf are set to be handed T20I debuts. Three places would obviously open up in the absence of Imam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Amir and Haris Sohail who don't feature in the squad.
Pakistan (possible): 1 Ahsan Ali, 2 Babar Azam, 3 Mohammad Hafeez, 4 Shoaib Malik, 5 Iftikhar Ahmed, 6 Imad Wasim, 7 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 8 Shadab Khan, 9 Haris Rauf, 10 Shaheen Afridi 11 Mohammad Hasnain
Bangladesh's team management will have a tough time replacing Mushfiqur Rahim, and maneuvering the five openers within the line-up. Coach Russell Domingo said a few days ago that many of them may have to bat out of position, although the bowling line-up is likely to be similar to the one that faced India in November.
Bangladesh (possible): 1 Tamim Iqbal, 2 Mohammad Naim, 3 Afif Hossain, 4 Liton Das (wk), 5 Mahmudullah (capt), 6 Soumya Sarkar, 7 Mahedi Hasan, 8 Aminul Islam, 9 Shafiul Islam, 10 Mustafizur Rahman, 11 Al-Amin Hossain
Pitch and conditions
The brownish wicket is projected to be a belter, giving the chasing side enough of an advantage to go after even a 200-plus total. The weather forecast seems perfect, with a high of 17 degrees.
Stats and trivia
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84