PCB has asked me to play without taking captaincy pressure: Babar Azam

LAHORE: Having received an assurance from the Pakistan Cricket Board for a long-term captaincy of the national team, newly appointed Test captain Babar Azam on Friday said the upcoming tour of New Zealand would be challenging but added his squad was full of confidence and would give good results.

“There is no pressure of the PCB on me that I may be removed from captaincy after losing a series. The Board has given me a lot of confidence and asked me to play without any pressure or fear in my mind, saying ‘we [PCB] are thinking for the long term for you [Babar]’,” Babar said while addressing a presser ahead of Pakistan’s New Zealand tour starting from Nov 23.

After reaching New Zealand, the Pakistan squad will complete a two-week quarantine period in Lincoln. The tourists face New Zealand in a three-match T20 International series starting from Dec 18 at Auckland followed by the Tests which will be staged in Mount Maunganui and Christchurch during late December and early January.

Babar, who last year was appointed as the national T20 captain last year and was also handed the ODI leadership this year for the recently-held home series against Zimbabwe which Pakistan won 2-1.

As the 26-year-old continued to perform productively with the bat while leading Pakistan in white-ball cricket, it prompted the PCB to hand over the Test captaincy to the right-handed batting sensation as a faltering Azhar Ali was removed as skipper of the five-day format.

“We are going to New Zealand with a lot of confidence we earned through back-to-back victories in the series against Zimbabwe and playing in the HBL PSL-5 and now we are a very much excited for the tour. [Previously] We have played good cricket against New Zealand, both in New Zealand and out of it and we hope to do well in with the help of confidence we are taking with us,” added Babar who made his Test debut in 2016 against the West Indies in Dubai.

Rated by the game’s experts as one of the best batsmen in contemporary world cricket, Babar so far has played 29 Tests scoring 2,045 runs at a good average of 45.44, 77 ODIs scoring 3,580 (average 55.93) and 44 T20 Internationals amassing 1681 runs at a healthy 50.93.

Asked how he would handle the extra burden of captaincy, Babar said he enjoyed to deliver under pressure.

“When I started [as captain] there was also some pressure, so you have to face it step by step as you move forward. After leading Pakistan against the West Indies [T20 home series] at the end I gained confidence. Every day you face challenges and for me it [captaincy in three formats] is a new challenge, so there is no such pressure [of captaincy] as I always like to enjoy performing in pressure situations,” the skipper remarked.

“When you play alongside seniors you learn a lot from them. I will try to apply what I have learned from my seniors like Saifi [Sarfaraz Ahmed] and Azhar Ali. Yes, I will take the advice of my seniors, however, I will make the final decision,” the skipper maintained.

To a question, Babar said the squad selected for the New Zealand tour was a good one, comprising youngsters and senior players, adding “there is no grouping as all the members have respect for each other and they always appreciate the performances of each other”.

Though New Zealand had emerged as a strong team which played the 2019 50-over World Cup final against hosts England, Pakistan’s batsmen and bowlers were in good form, the captain noted.

“Our young guns like [pacers] Shaheen Shah Afridi and Nasim Shah are bowling well. Then we have an experienced batsman like Azhar Ali, so we have a good combination. We need to support our player if he does not perform up to the required level.

“It is not possible that every player of the team performs in every game. Sometimes I will score, sometimes others; it is a team combination,” Babar underlined.

“I rate [only] the performances which help in giving victory to the team as high. We are going to New Zealand with this mindset to perform and Insha Allah results would be positive.”

Meanwhile, Babar was all praise for ex-Pakistan head coach Mickey Arthur, saying the South African had fully backed him in the beginning of his career and due to that support he had improved and raised his game.

Besides Pakistan’s senior team, Pakistan Shaheens are also leaving for New Zealand on Nov 23. The Shaheens will play matches against New Zealand ‘A’ during the tour.

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