Sarfraz eager to shift focus back to cricket

Faf du Plessis and Sarfraz Ahmed pose with the Independence Cup AFP

The emerging theme from the series between Pakistan and the World XI is that it's more than just cricket, with the feeling that this is the first time real, high-profile international cricket returns to Pakistan. The actual cricket looks to have taken a back seat, but Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed is eager to push it back into focus, looking to maintain Pakistan's T20 ranking by winning games.

The players comprising the World XI hail from seven different countries, and landed in Lahore with a view to reviving cricket in Pakistan. It is a series being celebrated around the country as the future of Pakistan as viable host hinges on the success of the series, which has been ratified by the ICC and holds T20 international status.

"I think the burden of responsibility has been increased because we are playing at home but we take every series seriously," Sarfraz said ahead of the first T20. "This might be a series for a great cause to revive cricket but we have to watch out for our T20 ranking as well. Our ranking is quite high (No. 3) and we want to maintain it so the series is equally important. We will try to win every game one-sidedly. But obviously, they are a strong team on paper and we will have to fight to win."

Sarfraz grew up in an era when Pakistan used to host international teams frequently. He played in the 2008 Asia Cup and was part of the Pakistan squad when Zimbabwe toured the country in 2015. He had also captained Quetta Gladiators in the PSL final earlier this year, but this will be the first instance of him captaining Pakistan on home soil in an international game. Apart from Sarfraz, as many as 10 players out of the 16-man squad have never played an international game at home.

Amir debuted in 2009 but has never played at home while Babar Azam, Ahmed Shehzad, and Imad Wasim played their first international in 2015 against Zimbabwe. "I am very excited to have cricket back home after a long time and it is a moment of joy," Sarfraz said. "Since the incident (Sri Lanka team attack in 2009) this is my third event in Pakistan.

"As captain it's my first, so for me, it's a proud moment, as well as for all those who have been selected to play against World XI. I think nothing is more joyous for them than to be playing cricket in Pakistan and we are hopeful that after this series, cricket will be regularly played in the country. We have a young team building up and we are fully prepared ahead of the game. We played with a blend of young player in West Indies, as we are now, but at the same time, we have the likes of Ahmed Shezhad, with ample experience along with Shoaib Malik, so there isn't any worry at all. We are actually trying to play young players who will step up to the plate."