Exciting and emotional series for us - Azhar
After leading Pakistan to a 2-0 ODI series win against Zimbabwe, Azhar Ali has said the victory boosted the team's confidence, and also gave him ample belief as captain ahead of the tour of Sri Lanka. Pakistan, playing their first home series in six years, whitewashed Zimbabwe in the two-match T20 series and also won the ODI series.
Azhar, who was appointed ODI captain after the World Cup, had lost his first assignment 0-3 to Bangladesh in April. However, he not only won his first home series as captain but was also the leading run-scorer with 227 runs at 75.66. He also became the first Pakistan captain to make a century in a successful chase in ODIs.
"It's been an exciting and emotional series for many reasons," Azhar said. "It became important for us, as many of us never played in Pakistan, and winning makes it more significant because it gives you confidence. I know the opponent wasn't as big but they played good cricket against us and eventually a win is a win and this will definitely help us move forward.
"I'm happy that I was able to carry out the responsibility of captaincy very well and score runs as a batsman. I always try to make myself feel as a batsman while batting but obviously there are a lot of things going on in my mind. But I think to be a good batsman, you have to be your own captain first. I always go in with the same sense, which was the reason I was successful in this series.
"To develop confidence you have to win and it becomes a habit only when you start winning games consistently. You don't have to bother who the opponent is but it is the belief that makes you win. So this belief has to build in our players, which is very important."
Since the World Cup, Pakistan have made extensive changes to their squad in a bid to rebuild the side. The transition saw some experienced hands - Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Sami - return to the team, while many youngsters got a chance as well. The experiment was seen as necessary to find the best combination.
"These players have been waiting for a long time after performing in the domestic circuit," Azhar said. "So the idea is to induct them gradually and test their skills at this level. But at the end we have to figure out the best combination by mixing it up with experienced players. We all know that we are facing a tough challenge to qualify for the Champions Trophy so we have to find the right combination in both the bowling and batting departments who can finish the game well."
Pakistan are presently facing a dearth in their bowling resources: Mohammad Irfan, Rahat Ali, Imran Khan and Sohail Khan are all injured, and Saeed Ajmal has been left out of the side. Sami, Hammad Azam and Anwar Ali helped Azhar win the series against Zimbabwe at home but it may not be enough to take on Sri Lanka in their upcoming series.
"There are a lot of injuries in our bowling department and I am hopeful that all the players will be available for selection. This will help us find our best combination looking at the conditions in Sri Lanka," Azhar said. "We are also going through a tough time after the retirement of some senior players but the players coming up are talented enough to be considered. They have the temperament and are performing well but the only thing is to give them an opportunity.
"I am optimistic they will blossom, but you can't notice the result with one or two series, one needs to be given one or two years to establish themselves. Soon we will be able to fight with any team in the world with the same level of competitiveness which is required for modern cricket."
Babar Azam, the 20-year-old batsman, made his debut in the third ODI and scored 54 off 60 balls. His composed innings under pressure, when Pakistan had lost three wickets for 36 runs, helped post a decent target of 296. "The highlight of the series against Zimbabwe was the young batsman Babar Azam who played well under pressure," Azhar said. "These are the innings that reflect how much potential he has in him. It was a tough innings to play and I am happy that we found players who can perform under this kind of pressure."
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent. @kalson