'We're ranked eighth, have nothing to lose'

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‘Hopeful and excited about the tournament’ – Sarfraz

Pakistan could play hundred warm-up matches and fifty group games against every country other than their next door neighbours, and yet have the eyes of a huge swathe of the cricket world focused solely on their meeting with India at Edgbaston on June 4.

Such is the anticipation for the rare clash – the two sides last met at the 2015 World Cup in Adelaide – that it was no surprise to hear Sarfraz Ahmed, the Pakistan captain, fielding questions about that fixture which is more than a week away, and not about their immediate warm-up game against Bangladesh.

Sarfraz, who took over from Azhar Ali as captain after a disastrous tour of Australia in January, spoke about the need to balance the desire for victory over India – one that would please many fans more than Pakistan winning the entire tournament – with the danger of losing focus on other opponents.

“We are very hopeful about the India match but our aim is to first perform well in our opening practice match as a team unit,” Sarfraz said at Edgbaston. “Obviously, performing against India is important because the whole nation is expecting us to win against them, so we will give our full 100 percent in the ground.

“We will try our fullest to be seen fighting. All players [are] giving their heart out in each and every department of the game and when we’re together giving our best and keeping our focus, result will surely come good.”

That game aside, Sarfraz believes his side has “nothing to lose” over the next few weeks and will use the underdog tag to encourage his teammates to play “positive cricket” and “freely” throughout the tournament. But he maintained that Pakistan, ranked lowest of the eight teams that qualified, had a chance to win the tournament for the first time.

“Definitely we are very hopeful and really excited about this tournament,” he said. “We are No. 8, so we have nothing to lose. So that’s why I told the players just play your natural game.”

This is Sarfraz’ first major tournament as captain and the challenge ahead is substantial. Pakistan have played just three ODIs against the West Indies in the interim and, while they won that series 2-1, it was over a side that failed to make the cut for this tournament.

“Initially we played a good series in West Indies,” said Sarfraz of his first success as captain. “It was a very tough series for us. But a lot of our players performed really well in all forms, all departments, batting or bowling. So we’re really hopeful to perform this tournament and we’ll try to win this trophy as well.”

The Champions Trophy hasn’t been a successful hunting ground for Pakistan. Thrice they have made the semi-finals only to be eliminated – twice by New Zealand and once by the West Indies. In the most recent tournament, held in England in 2013, Pakistan remained winless.

Their opponents in Saturday’s warm-up are, in contrast, a side on the rise: now ranked sixth, they sit above both Sri Lanka and Pakistan heading into their first Champions Trophy since 2006 and expectations have grown. Sarfraz was particularly wary of a batting line-up featuring the likes of Tamim Iqbal, Mahmudullah, Shakib Al Hasan and Mushfiqur Rahim.

But Pakistan, under coach Mickey Arthur, have prepared as well as they possibly can, according to their captain. “We had a six-day camp here before the tournament and we used it as best we could for our practice in fielding, batting and bowling,” Sarfraz said. “These upcoming warm-up matches are very important and it will give us a fair idea about the pitch and the conditions. Our wish is to win the mini-World Cup and we are all in for it and we will try to give our nation a gift for Eid.

Melinda Farrell is a presenter with ESPNcricinfo

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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