Babar Azam says Pakistan ready for World Cup after series win over NZ

Pakistan's captain Babar Azam and his teammate Mohammad Rizwan celebrate after winning the fourth ODI between Pakistan and New Zealand at the National Stadium in Karachi on 5 May 2023AFP

Captain Babar Azam says the “dominant” One-Day International (ODI) series win over New Zealand sets Pakistan up nicely for the World Cup, despite doubts over their participation.

The hosts beat a depleted New Zealand 4-1 in the five-match series and on their way briefly reached the top of the one-day rankings for the first time.

Pakistan scored 337 in the second match – their second-highest successful chase in ODIs – and Azam became the fastest player to 5,000 ODI runs en route to his 18th century in the format.

Pakistan's captain Babar Azam plays a shot

Opener Fakhar Zaman meanwhile achieved the distinction of hitting hundreds in three successive ODIs, firmly establishing his place in Pakistan’s top three, which also includes opener Imam-ul-Haq.

Uncertainty looms over Pakistan’s participation in the World Cup in October-November because of tensions with hosts India.

Despite that and defeat in the final match on Sunday, Azam was in buoyant mood.

“Winning the series is great and so is achieving number one ranking that has set us in a good position for the World Cup,” said the skipper.

Pakistan's captain Babar Azam (R) shakes hands with New Zealand's players after winning the fourth ODI

Asked if the uncertainty was worrying for the Pakistan team, Azam said: “We can’t say anything about that, but wherever we get a chance to play, we will play.”

The stand-off started last year when India announced it would not send a team to Pakistan for the Asia Cup in September, a month before the World Cup.

In response, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has threatened to pull out of the World Cup.

There are signs of a thaw, however. Last week Pakistan Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari visited India to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in Goa – the first visit by a senior Pakistani official in years.

No easy win

Azam refused to accept that in missing eight of their top players – mostly due to Indian Premier League duty – New Zealand were easy to beat.

“You don’t play an international team thinking that they are a junior team,” said Azam.

“You have to give 100 percent to win against an international team, so we played better and dominated.”

Pakistan won the first two matches by five and seven wickets in Rawalpindi before clinching the next two by 26 and 102 runs in Karachi.

New Zealand took the final game by 47 runs, also in Karachi.

Stand-in New Zealand skipper Tim Latham said the series was useful despite the results.

“We wanted to expose players to different roles and I think it was a great opportunity for all of them to experience these conditions,” he said.

New Zealand are sweating on the fitness of regular skipper Kane Williamson, who injured his knee during the IPL and looks likely to miss the World Cup.

New Zealand were runners-up in the last two World Cups, in 2015 and 2019.