Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent
Pakistan are set to rest four key all-format players - Babar Azam, Mohammad Rizwan, Shaheen Afridi and Hasan Ali - for the upcoming ODI series against Afghanistan in Sri Lanka next month. The series is set to begin on September 3.
ESPNcricinfo has learnt that the decision will be taken to manage their workload, allowing them to take a break from their life in the bio-bubble, with the T20 World Cup later this year the priority.
Pakistan have played more games than any other team besides England since the Covid-19 outbreak, which in turn has meant significantly long periods of travelling as part of a biosecure bubble. Both Rizwan (44) and Babar Azam (40) have played more international games than any player in the world since April 2020. Shaheen Afridi played 37 while Hasan, since his comeback early this year, went on to play 20 games across all formats. All four also played two editions of the PSL, adding further time spent in bio-bubbles.
Pakistan had been looking for an opportunity to rest their overworked players, with concerns mounting over the mental toll biosecure bubbles were having on athletes. These four players, who are usually selected for all three formats, had been requesting a rest for some time. The series against Afghanistan is part of the World Cup Super League, giving it additional importance, but the PCB was confident about the chances of the squad that will be announced on Friday.
"We wanted to rest because for the last year we have continuously been playing cricket," Mohammad Rizwan said in a virtual press conference. "Luckily, our cricket has increased but at the same time the major issues are we are living in bubble where life is tough. Our focus is on the next big event, the T20 World Cup, and so we wanted a rest so we were mentally and physically up for it."
In the absence of Azam and Rizwan, Shadab Khan is likely to lead the side, to be confirmed when Pakistan announce their squad. The squad will be assembled for a week-long training camp at the Lahore National High Performance Center before flying to Sri Lanka. Both Afghanistan and Pakistan will quarantine for three days before playing the first ODI on September 3 in Hambantota, with the second and third ODI set to be played on September 5 and 8 respectively.