Designated captain Javeria Khan, pacer Diana Baig and spin-bowling allrounder Nida Dar has been ruled out of Pakistan's first ODI against West Indies scheduled for Monday, hindering their preparations ahead of the 2022 ODI World Cup global Qualifier slated to take place in Zimbabwe from November 21.
In Javeria's absence, Sidra Nawaz has been named stand-in captain for the opening ODI of the three-match bilateral series which will be held in its entirety at the National Stadium in Karachi. Pakistan head coach David Hemp put Javeria and Baig's unavailability down to fitness concerns, saying the duo are not "not quite right" yet though they, along with top-order batter Omaima Sohail "came out of isolation a couple of days ago" after a Covid-19 outbreak in their original 18-member squad forced six players into isolation.
According to Hemp, all three players trained with the extended squad on Sunday morning. While Sohail was named in the 12-member squad for Monday's fixture, Javeria and Baig will miss out along with Dar, who exited the bubble a few days ago following her father's passing.
"As you are aware, we have been hampered by a Covid outbreak cumulatively in our camp from October 22," Hemp said on Sunday during a virtual press conference. "We still have three players that will return to us over the next three to four days. Today (Sunday) we got three players back into the group, so we now have an extended group but we're still three players short. We are also short of Nida Dar. Our condolences go to Nida and her family. Unfortunately, her father passed away a few days ago."
Despite the trio's absence, and the unavailability of Bismah Maroof, who is on maternity leave, Hemp, who was appointed Pakistan's coach in October 2020, backed the home team to come good against West Indies. This series will be his first home assignment.
"We have Sidra Amin, Iram Javed, Ayesha Zafar and Aliya Riaz," he said. "In the top six, we have players that are capable and performing. This [series] is a great opportunity for them." West Indies beat Pakistan 3-2 the last time the two teams squared off in a bilateral ODI series in the Caribbean in July-July. Pakistan won the last two matches of that series. Hemp hopes several members of Pakistan's batting department will look to build on their performances from the Caribbean tour.
"Muneeba, she got herself in most of those innings [in West Indies]," he said. "She was disappointed not to go on and get to 60, 70 or even a hundred. Omaima did manage to get through the 30-run mark and a couple of 60s. There has been some progress there."
The series - Pakistan's first home assignment since November 2019 - also marks the return of captain Stafanie Taylor to the West Indies side. She had missed the T20I series against South Africa in Antigua in August-September after being identified as a primary contact of a Covid-19 case in Jamaica, which required her to serve a period of isolation.
Now she returns to tour Pakistan after having opted out of the previous tour to the country February 2019 due to security concerns.
"It was really disappointing not being in the last ODI series [against South Africa]. I had to take some personal leave of absence," she said on the even of the series opener. "But I'm back and it's really good to be back. In Pakistan it's my first time being here and it's been good so far.
"It seems obvious that we struggled against South Africa. We had some time to go back and reflect on things that we needed to improve our game," she said. "We were fortunate enough to have a few weeks' camp in Antigua to rectify some of those errors. So yeah, hopefully, you know, starting tomorrow (Monday), something new.
"We are using these games to get the preparation going for the qualifiers, but not looking too far ahead. We definitely want to take away winnings, of course. So not just this practice, but also for us personally, to get some runs and wickets under our belt, and I think looking at not just the qualifiers but also for [the] World Cup [proper next year]. You never know, probably Pakistan again. So, it's good preparation for us moving forward."
The series also marks the return of international women's cricket to the National Stadium nearly 16 years after Pakistan last played at the venue in January 2006. Back then, Karachi hosted the Asia Cup during which the home team, India, and Sri Lanka played at Karachi Gymkhana and National Stadium.
Spectators up to 50% capacity will be allowed for each of the three matches, though only those with invites - strictly colleges and schools - can attend the first two games. The ground will be open to the general public for the third fixture.
West Indies served a three-day quarantine upon landing in Karachi on November 1 and had their first training session on November 5. After the series, which ends on November 14, both teams will travel to Zimbabwe where they will be among the 10 teams vying to secure one of three places for the World Cup to be played in New Zealand in March-April next year.
Pakistan squad for first ODI: Aliya Riaz, Sidra Nawaz (captain and wicketkeeper), Anam Amin, Ayesha Zafar, Fatima Sana, Iram Javed, Kainat Imtiaz, Muneeba Ali, Nashra Sandhu, Omaima Sohail, Sadia Iqbal, Sidra Amin
West Indies squad for Pakistan tour and World Cup Qualifier: Stafanie Taylor (capt), Anisa Mohammed (vice-capt), Aaliyah Alleyne, Shemaine Campbelle (wk), Shamilia Connell, Deandra Dottin, Sheneta Grimmond, Chinelle Henry, Qiana Joseph, Kycia Knight, Kyshona Knight, Hayley Matthews, Chedean Nation, Shakera Selman, Rashada Williams; Reserves: Cherry Ann Fraser, Shabika Gajnabi, Karishma Ramharack