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April 23, 2019

Good to be World Cup underdogs, says Sarfraz


April 23, 2019

LAHORE: Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed said on Monday that being underdogs in next month’s World Cup eases the pressure on his young team, who leave for the tournament this week.

Pakistan will play three warm-up matches before taking on joint-hosts England in a five-match one-day series and a Twenty20. The 1992 World Cup winners start their campaign against the West Indies in Nottingham on May 31.

Sarfraz said he would prefer his side to go into the tournament under the radar. “Look, when we go as favourites, then it’s a problem, but if we go as underdogs then other teams feel the danger, so I think being underdogs is good for us and eases the pressure,” Sarfraz told a press conference in Lahore before they depart for England and Wales on Tuesday.

Sarfraz, 31, was among five key players rested for the whitewash ODI series defeat by Australia last month to freshen up the squad before the competition. He was handed a four-match suspension in January by the International Cricket Council after he made a racist comment about South Africa’s Andile Phehlukwayo during an ODI.

All 10 teams will play each other in the tournament starting on May 30 with England taking on South Africa in the opening fixture. The top four teams will qualify for the semi-finals. The high-voltage clash between arch-rivals Pakistan and India scheduled for Manchester on June 16 promises to be one of the most tense of the tournament.

But Sarfraz played down the hype, saying all games are important. “For us all nine matches are important so we will take every match as a match against India,” he said of Pakistan’s bitter rivals—who have won all six of their previous World Cup clashes.

But Pakistan took the Champions Trophy against India in 2017 with a stunning 180-run victory in the final. “We have beaten India in a bigger event recently so we will have that advantage,” said Sarfraz.

He said the theme of Pakistan’s World Cup mission is “we have, we will”, citing the team’s previous glories. Along with the Champions Trophy two years ago, Pakistan won the 1992 World Cup and the 2009 World Twenty20.

Speaking on the occasion, head coach Mickey Arthur said the Pakistan team is fully prepared for the upcoming ICC Cricket World Cup in England and Wales, and expressed faith in the players’ ability to win the trophy. “We have worked really hard over the past two years. We are as prepared as we can be [for the World Cup]. We have to bring [out] all our capabilities to produce results in our favour,” he said.

On Yasir Shah’s call-up as a replacement for Shadab Khan, who has been ruled out of the England series due to a virus-related illness, Arthur said it was a “like for like” replacement. “Shadab Khan is a wonderful cricketer. As the buzz word nowadays goes, he’s ‘three-dimensional’. He plays a key role for us just outside the power play. However, we have tried to cover [for him] with another wrist spinner Yasir Shah. We are replacing him [Shadab] with like for like. Yasir is under no illusion that he has to challenge both the outside and inside edge of the bat,” Arthur added.

Praising Babar Azam, Arthur said expectations are high from the batsman. “Our expectations are high from Babar Azam as he’s our best batsman in squad. He is so talented, he is a batsman who [can] get the required scores.”

The coach added: “Mohammad Hafeez will be available for us during the World Cup as an off spinner too. We have faith in our team. All 15 of those players have the ability to win games. Our strategy will be to attack, we’re going to eye wickets. We have got all the bases covered.”

Pakistan have named two extra players in their squad for the five-match one-day series against England, with paceman Mohammad Amir and batsman Asif Ali in addition to the 15 for the World Cup. But they have until May 23 to finalise their squad for the tournament.

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