Believe in yourself, says Babar to his team

LAHORE  - Babar Azam’s team plays Af­ghanistan at Mahinda Raj­apaksa International Cricket Stadium in the first of the three One-Day Internationals (ODIs) today (Tuesday). 

Pakistan enter the series at the back of some brilliant re­sults – they swept Sri Lanka in the two-Test series just last month and defeated New Zea­land 4-1 at home in One-Day In­ternationals in April-May. With the Men’s ODI Asia Cup 2023 beginning just four days after the third and final match in Co­lombo and the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup immediately follow­ing up, these three matches against Afghanistan come with an opportunity for Pakistan to fine-tune their combinations. 

“It is great to be together as one unit again as we enjoy each other’s company a lot,” Babar told PCB Digital on the eve of the first ODI against Afghanistan. “We have a few new faces in the side and I wish them good luck for the challenges ahead. Most of the boys have been play­ing cricket in different leagues, but when you don the Pakistan star, it is a different feeling altogether. We enter this series with good momentum following our Test series win here and we are eager to build on it. As a cap­tain, I am very excited for the cricket ahead.” 

Pakistan have recently en­joyed outstanding results in ODIs. Since the start of 2022, Pakistan’s win/loss ratio of 3.250 - with 13 wins in 17 matches – has been the best across all teams. In May, they, for the first time in history, topped the ICC rankings for ODI sides. They have another go at surmounting the table if they maintain an impeccable record against Afghanistan. 

The dressing room is buzzing with confidence with each player raring to grab opportunity when­ever it arrives. Though the end goal is to be the best side in the World Cup, the team, Babar said, is taking one challenge at a time. 

“We are focused in our prepa­rations as we have big events in the Asia Cup and the World Cup coming up,” said Babar, under whose captaincy Pakistan have won 17 out of 26 ODIs. “But, at the same time, we want to take one series at the time … It is always beneficial for a team to get such a series ahead of major events. That we are playing in Asian conditions will definitely provide us an edge and help us get in the rhythm. The Afghani­stan team is on the rise and they have some good bowlers. The fans will get to see some excit­ing cricket.” 

Babar further said: “We have had some good additions in the squad. Faheem has been in and out of the side but he has performed well recently. We have included him because of his all-round abilities and believe that his presence will strengthen the side. 

“Tayyab Tahir had a good [Emerging Teams] Asia Cup and he performed well here in Sri Lanka and everyone saw how Saud Shakeel played Tests here. I am especially impressed by how Saud has transformed into a modern-day batter in such a quick time. This is a great sign for Pakistan cricket that he groomed himself according to the demands of the team, and whenever anyone does that, I get very happy,” he added. 

“Every player has a hunger [to perform] in this team. Every play­er wants to give match-winning performances. Recently we have had different player of the match award winners, which is a good sign for any team. When you per­form in big tournaments, it boosts your morale as a team and as in­dividuals and this team has per­formed well in the recent past. 

“The presence of Salman Ali Agha and Iftikhar Ahmed has bolstered our middle-order. We already have a settled top-order. Our spin department has strengthened. Thankfully, we have one of the best pace-bowl­ing attacks in Shaheen Afridi, Haris Rauf and Naseem Shah, and their performances under­score how good they are. Bowl­ers win you big tournaments and I have faith in them to win us big tournaments.” 

Babar concluded with a mes­sage to his players, saying, “My message has always been to believe in yourself and make sure that you give your hundred percent in the field.” The second and third ODIs will be played on 24 and 26 August in Hamban­tota and Colombo.

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