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Azhar targets Champions Trophy qualification

Pakistan will have to sweep the ODI series against Zimbabwe if they are to keep their chances alive to qualify for 2017 Champions Trophy in England

Umar Farooq
Umar Farooq
Azhar Ali made a steady half-century, Bangladesh v Pakistan, 3rd ODI, Mirpur, April 22, 2015

Azhar Ali hopes for a turnaround after a horror show against Bangladesh  •  AFP

Pakistan will have to sweep the ODI series against Zimbabwe if they are to keep alive their chances of qualification for 2017 Champions Trophy in England. The top seven sides in the world, plus hosts England, will compete at the next 50-overs tournament and the cut-off date for qualification is September 30, 2015. Pakistan are next scheduled to play a five-match ODI series against Sri Lanka in July before the cut-off date.
Pakistan ODI captain Azhar Ali has said that his team will look to improve and win all the games with qualification for Champions Trophy taking priority.
"Our target is win all the matches of the series and it's the main target for us," Azhar said. "We will learn from our mistakes in the past and will try to take fresh start. We have another opportunity tomorrow to improve our game and build a combination, which transforms into a very good team.
"We will try to give consistent chances to the players but at the same time we have a priority to make sure we won't miss out form the Champions Trophy too and will also help our future plans. It's such an occasion as a team and for me that it's very important to win. You also know the scenario that we have to win every match and with every game points count, every game is important and we will enter with our minds set on victory."
After being knocked out by Australia in the World Cup quarter-final, a new-look Pakistan slumped to a 3-0 loss against Bangladesh. Zimbabwe may have lost both their T20 games at the Gaddafi Stadium but they can draw confidence from scoring over 170 runs in each innings to push Pakistan.
Azhar remained wary of the threat offered by Zimbabwe, saying that he will keep a tab on their performances besides acknowledging his team's depth and combination.
"I think Zimbabwe, especially their batting, did very well in the T20s," he said. "Our team is also very good, it has a mix of experience and youth. It's a good combination and our side is definitely better than them on paper but we got to keep a check on their performance as well. They are very good batting side and played very well in both T20s.
"When we went to Bangladesh we had very few options of allrounders, but if you look at this side we have good allrounders making into the squad, which eventually will help us a lot. Every team plays with four bowlers plus two-three allrounders but we are lacking in this."
When asked if this series would give him another chance to prove his utility as captain Azhar said: "Captains win when the whole team performs. We will try to give good performance as a team, you can't do much changes but I think we can increase the performance. Individual performances do come but you can't win matches unless the whole team contributes."
Azhar also chose to focus on the performance of the team rather than letting pressure of captaincy get to him. "Pressure [being captain] is always there, but I try not to take extra pressure and enjoy the opportunity," he said. "It's a good opportunity for me and I will try to leave the pressure aside and focus on the performance of the team, the results will take care of themselves. Whenever you wear Pakistan colour every match is new for you and it's an opportunity for you, I will try my best to perform."
Azhar, who, made his international debut in England in 2010, is looking forward to the prospect of playing in front of his home crowd for the first time.
"It's very emotional for me, I've been playing for Pakistan for the last five years, but haven't played at home ground," he said. "It's an exciting moment for me and also for some other players who have not played in Pakistan. I saw the match at the ground yesterday and felt the excitement. It's great that cricket has returned to Pakistan and the credit goes to PCB and also to Zimbabwe Cricket for making this happen."

Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent. @kalson