At Birmingham last year, Pakistan suffered a heavy defeat against India in their ICC Champions Trophy opener. Sarfraz Ahmed, who had replaced Azhar Ali as Pakistan’s ODI captain just a few months earlier, almost instantly became the favourite whipping boy for the media and experts alike.
The new captain rallied and things changed rapidly. After the tournament, Ahmed was named the skipper of the ICC Champions Trophy side by a panel that had Ramiz Raja, Michael Atherton and Sourav Ganguly in its ranks. The Champions Trophy triumph proved to be a pivotal moment for the Pakistan limited-overs team and their captain.
Pakistan cricket have always unsuccessfully searched for leadership stability. Imran Khan was a glorious exception. More recently, Misbah-ul-Haq had a close to seven-year reign as the Test captain. But the captaincy merry-go-round continued in the shorter formats. Shahid Afridi led the side in the last edition of the Asia Cup in Bangladesh two years ago. Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik, too, had their share of the pie. Pakistan had been searching for someone who could helm the side in all three formats. Ahmed apparently has provided them with a solution.
After winning the Champions Trophy, Pakistan won five ODIs and three T20 internationals on the spin against Sri Lanka in the UAE last year. Although they had a horror tour of New Zealand, Ahmed and company returned to winning ways in Zimbabwe. Pakistan are now the world’s No.1 team in T20s, while they have moved up to fifth in the ODIs. Ahmed’s Pakistan also drew a Test series in England earlier this year.
Ahmed spoke about the continuity in selection as a reason for improvement. “When I became the captain before Champions Trophy, we had a very young team. Our job was to give confidence to the youngsters. The way we won the tournament was a big boost for us. After that we had a meeting with the selectors and coaching staff and we went with the same team,” he said at the Asia Cup launch press conference on Friday.
“We didn’t make many changes. Young players responded well like Fakhar Zaman, Hasan Ali, Shadab Khan, Faheem Ashraf. They are getting better day by day. That’s why our one-day cricket has improved,” he added.
The Asia Cup will be Pakistan’s start of the journey towards the next year’s World Cup. “If we play it series by series, it will be better. Pakistan have a busy schedule ahead. Journey is on for the World Cup. We will look to improve as we move to the World Cup so we know where we stand and how our players are doing,” Ahmed said.