The security arrangements had been the focus since Zimbabwe's arrival in Pakistan but on the eve of the first ever Twenty20 international at the Gaddafi Stadium, the attention returned to cricket.
With ten months to go for the World T20 in India, Shahid Afridi, the Pakistan captain, had his eyes on giving the revamped squad a good test. The two T20Is against Zimbabwe were a chance to experiment before they settle on a core group, he said."I had requested the selectors to give me three to four new players for the series." Afridi said. "In the last three months of our preparation, I don't like to see changes in the team so that the same set of players go to the World T20s and their morale remains high. It's selectors' responsibility. I don't want to interfere in their work. I want to work together with them and form a good team."When you are focusing on World T20, you have to do experiments," he said. "You try to work on weak areas to do well. It's good that the selection committee is doing its work. As a captain I will do my work, coaches will do their job. If we concentrate on our areas the results will be good."The inclusion of allrounder Shoaib Malik and fast bowler Mohammad Sami had been surprising but the selectors also included uncapped 19-year-old opener Nauman Anwar and former under-19 captain Imad Wasim.
Anwar Ali, Bilawal Bhatti and Hammad Azam also returned to the squad, while Saad Nasim, Imran Khan and Haris Sohail were dropped from the T20 squad that played against Bangladesh in Mirpur last month."There is only 8-9 months left and Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Sami have given lots of good performances in the past," Afridi said. "And it's not like they are aged. Malik has done well in Big Bash. They have got an opportunity and I hope they will make good use of it."
Pakistan are ranked fifth in T20s, seven places above Zimbabwe, and need to win both the matches to retain the spot. A drawn series would mean Pakistan will slip to seventh. Afridi said he was aware of the threat Zimbabwe could pose and was not taking them lightly.
"I don't underestimate any team in the world especially, when you compete in Twenty20 format," he said. "It's the best 14-15 selected. They are the fighters and they will give good results."
Elton Chigumbura, the Zimbabwe captain, however had simpler goals. Leading a side that has recently lost Brendan Taylor and has made said his team was looking to build on the positives they had at the World Cup. They have made seven changes in their 15-member squad that travelled to Australia and New Zealand.
"That's the good thing about life, players come and go and get opportunity and players came here to grab those opportunity," Chigumbura said. "We just want to try and carry that momentum from the world cup and obviously improve one or two percent on the thing that we didn't do well.
"Although it's a different version but the most important thing that we do well and hopeful we will do well tomorrow. Good thing about cricket is that any team can play good on a given day and can win the game. It's not about countries (ranking) but it's about XI guys going out on a given day play best of their cricket and try to win the game."