BIRMINGHAM: His side comes into the tournament eighth in the ICC ODI Team Rankings, but Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed is confident of making the most of having nothing to lose in this summer’s ICC Champions Trophy. Pakistan has yet to lift this particular trophy, but comes to England with a sense of freedom as it looks to reach a first-ever final – with excitement the main emotion heading into the tournament. Edgbaston will first become Pakistan’s second home, playing India next Sunday, and South Africa in its opening two matches, while fellow sub-continent outfit Sri Lanka will be its last group opposition at The Oval.
And it was in Birmingham where Sarfraz stated his side’s ambitions for the tournament, confident that a care-free approach can pay dividends in a bid for a global title. “We have nothing to lose, we just want to play our natural game,” he said at his pre-tournament press conference. “We have just played a very good series in the West Indies, where the players performed very well. We are very hopeful of playing well in this tournament and we want to win it. It is a very exciting time for us, there have been a lot of practice sessions at Edgbaston and we’re ready to play.”
“Against the West Indies, we had a big fielding improvement, there were one or two dropped catches but it was an improvement so we are happy with that. We don’t see us as having a surprise element, we want to come here and play free cricket, starting against India. We are taking matches one by one and the Pakistan team is hopeful of building some confidence starting in the warm-up matches.”
Sarfraz also praised Bangladesh, with the two teams set to meet here for a warm-up match on Saturday. Bangladesh is in its first ICC Champions Trophy since 2006 and currently sits higher than Pakistan in the ICC ODI Team Rankings, with Sarfraz admitting he has been impressed by Bangladesh over the last 18 months.
From there, attention turns quickly to India, a team which Pakistan has a positive record against in the competition – winning two and losing just one of its previous meetings against its arch rival. And while that game may be particularly special for the fans back home, Sarfraz is adamant his side will take its preparations one day, and one game, at a time.
“Over the past one-and-a-half years, Bangladesh has performed very well,” he said. “The warm-up game is a good opportunity for both teams before the Champions Trophy. Both teams want to win so it’s a good practice match to have. Over the past few years they’ve done well and we’ll see its batsmen, like Tamim Iqbal, if we play in the semi-finals. We have a better record against India in the Champions Trophy, not in other competitions, but we do well in this. We’re looking to maintain that against them and it’s very exciting.”
Having taken over captaincy only in February, this marks the first major tournament at the helm for Sarfraz. He boasts a positive record so far, winning three of his four matches as captain, coming from behind to secure his first series win as skipper in the West Indies. The 30-year-old was in the middle as the winning runs were hit in the final match, and with confidence high that Pakistan can flourish in the ICC Champions Trophy, he isn’t feeling the pressure of leading his country.
Sarfraz continued: “This is my first major tournament as captain, I’m definitely very hopeful and excited about the competition. My aim is to play my own game, to not play under pressure and to just play as I do in domestic cricket.”