Pakistan take on Zimbabwe in the opening match of the T20 tri-series on Sunday with the No1 spot in the ICC rankings on the line.
Pakistan, with 131 points, are on top of the ICC T20 rankings and can consolidate their position if they win all league games against Zimbabwe and Australia and also win the final.
A good performance in the tri-series is important for Pakistan as third-placed Australia will can overtake them if they win all their matches, plus the final.
Also, second-ranked India and fourth-ranked England clash in a three-match T20 series this week and if Pakistan and Australia slip up in Zimbabwe, one of India and England can claim the No1 ranking.
If that isn’t enough motivation for Pakistan to win all matches in the T20 tri-series, here is more. Pakistan are currently on a seven-match winning run in T20s. In fact, this is the second time they have won seven consecutive T20 matches after achieving the feat in 2009.
If Pakistan manage to win all four league games in the Zimbabwe tri-series and the final, they will break Afghanistan’s record of 11 straight T20 wins which is the most. Two teams – England and Ireland – have won eight consecutive T20 matches.
The 38-year-old, who is captain of Edmonton Royals, arrived in Canada on Friday evening ahead of their opening game against Toronto Nationals on Saturday.
Afridi will be a leading a side which has former New Zealand batsman Luke Ronchi, Pakistan international Umar Akmal and West Indies’ Andre Fletcher. UAE’s Shaiman Anwar and Ahmed Raza are also in the squad.
The tournament, which began on Thursday, has attracted some of the biggest names in world cricket including Steve Smith and David Warner.
There is a lot riding on this series, also involving Australia, because as many as four teams will be eyeing the No1 ranking in the coming weeks.
Pakistan can consolidate their position at the top of the pile if they perform well in the tri-series and reach the final. But if they lose matches in the league stage and providing Australia – ranked third – win all matches, the Aussies can rise to No1 position.
India (second) and England (fourth) will play three T20s against each other from Tuesday and both teams can rise to the No1 spot if they will all matches and both Pakistan and Australia slip in the tri-series in Zimbabwe.
The scenarios is clear for Sarfraz – win most matches and retain the No1 spot. However, the wicketkeeper batsman is wary of conditions in Harare. Pakistan toured the African nation in 2013 and 2015 and pitches were completely different on both occasions. And since the tri-series matches start at 10am local time, Sarfraz said toss will play a crucial role.
“When we toured Zimbabwe in 2013, the wickets were very different. The pitches had grass and the ball was seaming early on. 2015 was completely different as the wickets were slow, had a little bit of moisture,” the skipper said in an interview uploaded on the Pakistan board’s Twitter page.
“Conditions will be important. Since it’s a 10am start, I think toss will be very crucial in the series.”
Also, since it’s the winter season in Zimbabwe, the lowest temperature is expected to be in single digits which should result in nippy conditions at the start.
Apart from the conditions, the opposition will be tricky as well for the No1 T20 team. Zimbabwe are not the strongest team in the world but have defeated Bangladesh and India at home in T20s in 2016, while Australia are a consistent team in the shortest format. Sarfraz insists Pakistan, who are on a seven match winning streak, will take no team lightly.
“Our record in T20 is good,” he added. “But as the game is progressing and getting faster, you can’t take any team lightly. It’s Zimbabwe’s home condition so they know how to play there. Australia are such a strong team. You look at the way they play T20 in their country (Big Bash League), they play very strong cricket. We will try to play our best cricket.”