Babar Azam has experienced plenty in what is still a fledgeling career, but there's a milestone he is eagerly waiting for when Zimbabwe visit Pakistan later this month for a limited-overs tour. Despite being appointed captain of the limited-overs sides over a year ago, Azam is yet to lead his Pakistan in ODIs.
Plenty has changed since Sarfaraz Ahmed captained Pakistan to a 2-0 ODI series win over Sri Lanka in Karachi in October last year. Ahmed himself is no longer the Pakistan captain and no longer a first-choice member of the playing XI in any format. Pakistan have notched up home Test wins against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, lost the No. 1 spot in the T20I rankings and completed a three-Test and three-T20I tour of England. A pandemic has meant all international plans have been thrown into disarray, and the ICC World Cricket Super League has begun, with Pakistan's series against Zimbabwe being the home side's first involvement in the qualification league for the next ODI World Cup.
But in all this time, Pakistan are yet to play a single ODI match, the Zimbabwe series Azam's first leadership stint in the 50-over format.
"It's a great honour for me to be able to captain Pakistan in ODI cricket," Azam told the PCB's in-house media channel. "There's been no cricket in Pakistan for a decade, and our players were forced to play abroad. So I count myself very lucky.
"The ICC league gives every series context, with seven qualifying berths up for grabs. So we want to put as many points on the board as possible so when we get to the World Cup, people talk about us seriously. In 2011, we qualified for the semi-finals and in 2019, we couldn't get through. I don't think the rankings matter but I want us to start well and I fully trust my team to perform well and qualify."
The ODIs will be played at Rawalpindi Stadium, the first time limited-overs cricket will take place outside the PCB's established centres, Lahore and Karachi since before the Sri Lankan team terror attack in 2009. The main attraction behind the idea of playing limited-overs cricket at smaller venues across Pakistan was to pack in full houses whose support, meaning home support would be keenly felt out in the middle. The ODIs might have returned to Pindi Stadium, but instead of packed crowds, there will be empty stadiums as a precautionary measure against the Covid-19 pandemic. Azam acknowledged this wouldn't be ideal and the side will miss the crowd support.
"The crowd has always supported us, and we got so much love from them when cricket recently began to come back to Pakistan. Unfortunately, Covid-19 means the crowd isn't allowed. We'll definitely miss them because you always get a boost from the crowd. We got a lot of support during the National T20 Cup, and we hope to get the same during the Zimbabwe series."