'We have won back respect' - Ajmal
Following a disappointing Champions Trophy campaign in which Pakistan failed to win a single game, they bounced back in the West Indies, winning the ODI and T20 series. Reflecting on the tours on arrival in Pakistan, senior players urged fans to savour the team's recent success and forget the past.
"We didn't give our best in the Champions Trophy," Saeed Ajmal said on arrival in Lahore. "But we have won back the respect and had a strong comeback. They (West Indies) were playing at home and were stronger and it wasn't easy to beat them as you have seen how close the games were. But we worked hard, every player did well and the collective efforts led to the team's win."
When put under the spot by a journalist who stated with a touch of cynicism that the victories came against an underperforming West Indies team, Ajmal smiled and said, "Do appreciate us sometimes".
Four players - Umar Akmal, Misbah-ul-Haq, Mohammad Hafeez and Ahmed Shehzad remained in the West Indies to feature in the Caribbean Premier League. After losing 3-2 to South Africa earlier this year, Pakistan beat Scotland and Ireland in closely fought contests before heading to the Champions Trophy. Pakistan bounced back strongly in the West Indies, taking the ODIs 3-1 and sweeping the T20s 2-0, maintaining their unbeaten ODI series record in the Caribbean in the last 20 years.
Shahid Afridi too spoke on the significance of the victory. "This was a much-needed win," Afridi said in Karachi. "We played well as a team and won. It was needed after the performances in the Champions Trophy and South Africa. We wanted this win and I am sure that this will help improve the image of the team as well as the players. When you play well it erases the bad memories."
When asked about the allegations of fixing in the West Indies ODI series leveled by the Mail on Sunday, Afridi said he was unaware of the report. "Who says so? Where has it appeared?" Afridi asked. "I don't know, really. But I must say savor this win when you have done well and forget other things."
After their Champions Trophy exit, Pakistan dropped experienced players like Shoaib Malik, Imran Farhat and Kamran Akmal and opted for youth. Their batting woes did resurface for a while but they closed out the ODI series with two impressive chases, led by their captain Misbah-ul-Haq. Umar Amin and Haris Sohail did well with the bat, while the 34-year old left-arm spinner Zulfiqar Babar had a dream debut in the first T20. Umar Akmal marked his return after a year with 175 runs at 58.33 in the ODIs. He was relatively safe behind the stumps - save for missing a run-out that helped West Indies tie the third match - effecting ten dismissals including two stumpings.
Ajmal, who picked up 10 wickets including 8 in the ODI series, praised the contributions of the youngsters. "We have seen a lot of youngsters coming in and we have given them the maximum opportunities in this series. I am hopeful about our future and backing them to stand on their own feet. We are looking forward to keeping up winning the momentum."
Pakistan next assignment is an away tour to Zimbabwe for two Tests, three ODI and one Twenty20, a visit that was postponed from December last year. Zimbabwe Cricket is yet to release the itinerary, but ESPNcricinfo understands that Pakistan are expected to depart in the third week of August. Pakistan will then host, in the UAE, South Africa in October-November followed by Sri Lanka in December.
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent. He tweets here