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Pakistan might rest Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan to manage workloads

Senior pair could be kept out of upcoming series against Afghanistan and New Zealand with an eye on the Asia Cup and World Cup

Umar Farooq
Umar Farooq
Since 2021, Babar Azam has played 127 games across formats, while Mohammad Rizwan has played 150  •  AFP/Getty Images

Since 2021, Babar Azam has played 127 games across formats, while Mohammad Rizwan has played 150  •  AFP/Getty Images

Pakistan is pondering resting captain Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan for the T20I series against Afghanistan later this month, as well as the series against New Zealand that follows. ESPNcricinfo understands the workload management of top players was a major point of discussion in a recent selection committee meeting, as they look ahead to a World Cup year as well as an Asia Cup before it.
Each player's workload was assessed in terms of matches played over the last two years, with the trio of Babar, Rizwan and Haris Rauf highlighted. Since January 2021, Rizwan has played 150 matches across formats (international and domestic cricket) - the most after Rashid Khan's 157 - while Babar has played 127 and Rauf 125.
It was suggested in the meeting that Pakistan consider resting players from the upcoming three T20Is against Afghanistan in Sharjah, as well as the five T20Is* against New Zealand that follow at home.
With the next T20 World Cup more than a year away, the selection committee might look to bring in some newer faces for these series. Other than playing Afghanistan and New Zealand before the Asia Cup and the World Cup, Pakistan also play two away Tests in Sri Lanka in the middle of the year.
However, the prospect of resting Babar will be a tricky one given that his all-format captaincy came under scrutiny during a difficult home season. While Shadab Khan is being looked at as a long-term vice-captain, the PCB is keen to explore other leadership options too, including Shaheen Shah Afridi, who ESPNcricinfo understands was consulted about the role.
Afridi's captaincy experience is limited to 22 T20s since he started leading Lahore Qalandars at the last PSL. In his very first season in charge, though, Afridi led Qalandars to the title, and has carried them into the playoffs this season too. He is also at the moment coming back from a knee injury that disrupted the last half-year, forcing him to miss the home series against England and New Zealand.
The appointing of a captain doesn't come under the selection committee in any case - that remains the board head's prerogative.
The captaincy question first came up in January, when the PCB had reviewed the national team's structure after a disappointing home season in 2022-23. The new PCB management, headed by Najam Sethi, had then indicated their willingness to signal to players and coaches that they will "challenge the status quo if necessary", and split the Pakistan captaincy across formats.
And so these upcoming series are seen as a prime opportunity for the selection committee to install their suggested rotation policy. They are set to name the squad to face Afghanistan on Monday, and among the younger players to potentially feature are Saim Ayub, Ihsanullah, Usama Mir and Azam Khan. Imad Wasim, who last played for Pakistan in November 2021, is also in line for a call-up.
*An earlier version stated that the PCB were considering resting players for both the T20Is and ODIs against New Zealand.

Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent