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LAHORE: The final phase of Pakistan’s preparations for the mighty cricket season begins today, as Babar Azam’s team plays Afghanistan at Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium in the first of the three One-Day Internationals (ODIs).

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 ODIs 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.

Skipper of Pakistan cricket team, Babar Azam said, “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 has 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.

Babar said, “We are focused in our preparations as we have big events in the Asia Cup and the World Cup coming up, 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.”

Pakistan included all-rounder Faheem Ashraf, uncapped batter Tayyab Tahir and middle-order batter Saud Shakeel in the squad for the Afghanistan series. The three players have been rewarded for their impressive performances recently and their presence further boosts an already solid squad.

Babar said, “We have had some good additions in the squad,” the number one ranked ODI batter said. “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. 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.”

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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