Babar Azam makes his return as Pakistan captain in a five-match Twenty20 series starting Thursday against an understrength New Zealand with the World Cup weeks away.

Azam regained the captaincy last month in a shock U-turn that ended the short-lived reign of Shaheen Shah Afridi, raising fears of a rift between the players.

The hosts hope that spending time together at a fitness camp at an army base will have been good for bonding.

Head coach Azhar Mahmood said on Tuesday that the T20 World Cup in June in the United States and West Indies is very much on their minds.

"I have full faith in the selected squad and the morale is very high in the team, so we will overcome all the shortcomings so that we can do our best in the World Cup," he told AFP.

"You cannot take any team lightly in the T20 format and if New Zealand is missing their key players then there is an opportunity for their young players."

Pakistan suffered major upheaval following their first-round exit from the one-day World Cup last year.

Azam stepped down as captain in all three formats and head coach Mickey Arthur left along with Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Zaka Ashraf.

Mohsin Naqvi, the country's interior minister, took up the board's top post and reorganised the selection committee, paving the way for batsman Azam's return.

Fast bowler Mohammad Amir and spinning all-rounder Imad Wasim also return to international cricket in this series after coming out of retirement.

- Youthful New Zealand -

New Zealand arrived in the country at the weekend, having sent a security team last month.

In 2021 the Black Caps pulled out of a tour of Pakistan at the 11th hour over security fears, but returned twice in 2023.

New Zealand are missing nine top players including skipper Kane Williamson because of the Indian Premier League.

Stand-in skipper Michael Bracewell says it is a chance for the younger players.

"I think the group of young players have come through and have played a lot of T20 cricket growing up," said Bracewell, who has returned after a year-long injury lay-off.

"They have fresh ideas on how the game should be played and as a group we will just try to play our game."

Ace pacer Tim Southee, the world's top wicket-taker in Twenty20 internationals with 157, is rested.

The experienced duo of Adam Milne and Finn Allen suffered injuries a day before the team's departure.

All-rounder Zac Foulkes, hard-hitting batsman Tim Robinson and seamer Will O'Rourke are uncapped in T20s.

The first three games of the series are in Rawalpindi, with Lahore hosting the last two.

Teams (from):

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

New Zealand: Michael Bracewell (captain), 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, Zac Foulkes, Tom Blundell