BIRMINGHAM: His side come into the tournament eighth in the ODI team rankings, but Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed is confident of making the most of having nothing to lose in the ICC Champions Trophy.
Pakistan are yet to win the Champions Trophy, but come to England with a sense of freedom as they look 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 their opening two matches, while Sri Lanka will be their last group opposition at The Oval.
And it was in Birmingham where Sarfraz stated his side’s ambitions for the tournament, confident that a carefree approach can pay dividends in a bid for a global title.
“We have nothing to lose, we just want to play our natural game,” Sarfraz 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,” the 30-year-old Pakistan captain added.
“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-ups.”
Sarfraz also praised Bangladesh, with the two teams set to meet here for a warm-up on Saturday.
Bangladesh are in their first Champions Trophy since 2006 and currently sit higher than Pakistan in the ODI 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 have a positive record against in the competition — winning two and losing just one of their previous meetings against the arch-rivals.
And while that game may be particularly special for the fans back home, Sarfraz is adamant his side will take their preparations one day, and one game, at a time.
“Over the past one-and-a-half years, Bangladesh have performed very well,” he said. “The warm-up game is a good opportunity for both teams before the Champions Trophy.”
On India, Sarfraz said, “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.
With confidence high that Pakistan can flourish in the ICC Champions Trophy, the captain isn’t feeling the pressure of leading his country.
“This [Champions Trophy] is my first major tournament as captain, so I’m definitely very hopeful and excited about it,” Sarfraz said.
“My aim is to play my own game, to not play under pressure and to just play as I do in domestic cricket.”
Published in Dawn, May 27th, 2017