Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed urged the world to change its perception about playing international cricket in the country after a highly successful T20I series against West Indies in Karachi. He also heaped praise on his team-mates for completing a 3-0 clean sweep, despite the depleted resources of the opposition.
"I have been hearing people say that a weak side has arrived for the series," Sarfraz said. "The PCB did not ask anyone to send a weak team. We had asked West Indies to tour Pakistan. We played better cricket and credit must be given to our side. Our players deserve to be appreciated for their performances because they played exceptionally well. It would be wrong to say that a 'B side' had come. Eight players from this touring squad were part of the last West Indies tour. Four of them were part of the PSL. I don't think this was a weak side. We played better."
"I expect no team will be using security concerns as an excuse in the future. This year or the next year, [international] cricket will come back to Pakistan"
Over the past year, Pakistan has staged several high-profile matches at two of their major centres - Lahore and Karachi. Through these fixtures, the country has broken the long-standing isolation from hosting international teams. There have been over 100,000 spectators who watched the PSL final and the three T20Is against West Indies, which is widely seen as a major step towards branding Pakistan as a safe country.
"I don't think teams have any excuses left for not coming to Pakistan anymore," Sarfraz said at the post-match press conference. "Even today, the crowd turnout was massive, despite this match being the third game of the series. People of Karachi have proved to the world that cricket can be played in Pakistan, so the teams should not be looking for any excuses to not tour Pakistan. An ICC World XI side has come to Pakistan, we have had the PSL final [in Karachi], and before that Sri Lanka came to Pakistan. So I expect no team will be using security concerns as an excuse in the future. This year or the next year, [international] cricket will come back to Pakistan."
A Karachi boy himself, Sarfraz was thrilled with the conduct of the spectators: "No praises can do the justice to the discipline the Karachiites have shown. They have braved all the hurdles to come to the stadium. My family had also come to watch matches in the stadium and they told me about the problems that the people had to face on their way here. We should praise the efforts they made. The crowd was to its full capacity today. Likewise, we should also thank the security forces and intelligence agencies for their services. The PCB also deserves credit for all of their efforts."
For Pakistan, the series proved productive with three PSL performers - Hussain Talat, Asif Ali and Shaheen Afridi making their debut at home. The move to promote Babar Azam to the opening slot saw him finish atop the batting charts - with 165 runs at 82. 50 - and bag the Player-of-the-Series award. Ahmed Shehzad, however, sat out all three games, despite being in the 15-member squad.
"It is very satisfying that you are able to execute the plans you have come up with," Sarfraz said when asked if winning against a weakened squad was still satisfying. "We had come on this tour with some new plans. We changed the opening combination and gave opportunities to two new cricketers right from the start of the series. All the players who were given opportunities, made the most of them. Shaheen Shah Afridi was also provided a chance today. This is a good sign that youngsters are being given a run in the national side and they are proving themselves by performing at the international level.
"It is very positive that new talent is coming in since the last couple of years. The selection committee and the team management deserve credit for this that they support everyone, which translates into good performances. We are trying to give everyone a chance. We knew we had to win today's game to consolidate ourselves at the top of the T20I rankings but still we went in with a new pace attack."
Highlighting the value of the victory, Sarfraz, who has won all seven T20I series since becoming captain, said it was but natural for the fans to expect more of his team.
"Shaheen Afridi made his debut and bowlers like Hasan Ali and Mohammad Amir sat on the bench today. It is not like that it is becoming difficult for those who have been dropped to make a comeback in the national side. We try to give whoever is with the team a chance. Of course, the expectations increase with every win. And, you know being a captain of Pakistan is not an easy task. When you lose everyone starts to blame the captain. But, I am hopeful that things will remain better as they have in the past."