ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan cricket team will kick off their preparations for the ICC World Cup 2024 by taking on New Zealand in the first match of the T20I series against the Black Caps in Rawalpindi today, Thursday. 

Led by experienced all-rounder Michael Bracewell, New Zealand’s cricket team arrived in Pakistan last week to play the five-match T20I series from April 14-28. Rawalpindi will also host matches on Saturday and Sunday, while Lahore’s Qaddafi Stadium will be the stage for the remaining two matches next week on Thursday and Saturday.

This will be the third five-match series between the two sides inside a 12-month period. Last year, Pakistan and New Zealand drew the series at two-all in Pakistan, while New Zealand clinched the series 4-1 earlier at their home. 

“This five-match T20I series holds a lot of importance for us as we look forward to preparing for the all-important mega-event,” Pakistan’s white-ball captain Babar Azam said during a news conference on Wednesday. 

“We had a great fitness camp in Kakul and are looking forward to express ourselves as a unit.”

Pakistan have named uncapped Abrar Ahmed, Mohammad Irfan Khan and Usman Khan in the 17-player squad. Pacer Mohammad Amir and all-rounder Imad Wasim, who came back from retirement last month. are also back in the national squad. 

The series will also mark fast bowler Naseem Shah’s return to the national squad, who last played for Pakistan in Asia Cup 2023 before suffering a shoulder injury. The injury proved to be a fatal blow for Pakistan, sidelining Shah from the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023 and tours of Australia and New Zealand.

Bracewell said he was excited to lead New Zealand on the Pakistan tour, adding that his team was raring to play good cricket against the hosts.

“Pakistan are formidable side at home and we’ll look to put challenges in their backyard,” he said. 

The match is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. Pakistan Standard Time. 

Squads:

Pakistan — Babar Azam (captain), Abrar Ahmed, Azam Khan, Fakhar Zaman, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imad Wasim, Mohammad Abbas Afridi, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohammad Amir, Muhammad Irfan Khan, Naseem Shah, Saim Ayub, Shadab Khan, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Usama Mir, Usman Khan and Zaman Khan

New Zealand — Michael Bracewell (captain), Tom Blundell, Mark Chapman, Josh Clarkson, Jacob Duffy, Dean Foxcroft, Ben Lister, Cole McConchie, Jimmy Neesham, Will O’Rourke, Tim Robinson, Ben Sears, Tim Seifert, Ish Sodhi and Zak Foulkes.

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