Babar Azam hopes Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik can bring back that 2018 feeling
Pakistan won 17 out of 18 T20Is that year, only to lose eight out of nine in 2019 and loosen their grip on the No. 1 ranking
Pakistan are the world's No. 1 T20I team, but they are just a defeat away from being dislodged from the top of the rankings. They presently have 270 points, just one more than Australia at No. 2.
Anything other than a 3-0 win in the upcoming T20I series over Bangladesh - even a 2-1 win - will see Pakistan slip below Australia. Bangladesh, meanwhile, are at No. 9 with 227 rating points.
"We are focused on continuing our world No. 1 ranking and that can happen only if we ultimately win the series," Babar Azam, Pakistan's T20I captain, said during a pre-series press conference. "When you think that you have to retain your position and it comes to a do-or-die match then we have to plan accordingly. Our aim is to win the series. No team can be taken lightly nowadays, but we are positive and will try to play good cricket. Overall we have made very good preparations - we played four [practice] matches and the team has gelled and we hope we will give you good results."
Pakistan have held on to the top spot since January 2018, but they haven't won a T20I for nearly a year, with their last win coming in February 2019 against South Africa. They lost eight of their nine completed games in the format last year.
They still hold the No. 1 ranking because of their remarkable record in the time before this recent string of poor results: between January and November 2018, they won 17 out of their 18 T20Is. Veterans Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik were both part of Pakistan's team when they went on that winning run, and they are both back in the side now, on the insistence of Babar and Misbah-ul-Haq, Pakistan's coach-cum-selector, even if there was no consensus among the six regional selectors on the issue.
"If you look back to when we became number one, they were part of the squad throughout, so I am happy my opinion was considered," Babar said. "As a captain it will be a great help with seniors around me and I get to learn a lot."
Babar hinted that the prospects of Hafeez and Malik beyond the Bangladesh series would depend solely on their performance. "We will give them a proper chance," he said. "We expect them to perform. We will give them all three games and there will be the PSL after that, so with time the picture will be clear and then we will see. We made changes in the team because we had to, since players who were not in form had to be replaced."
All three matches of the T20I series will be day games. The previous nine T20Is at the Gaddafi Stadium were all night games, with Pakistan winning five and losing four. The highest total at the venue is 197, while the lowest is 101.
"In my point of view it looks like a 180-190 wicket," Babar said, when asked about conditions for the first T20I on Friday. "Batting is our strength and the depth goes until No. 9, with Imad [Wasim] and Shadab [Khan] capable of giving us power hitting later in the innings. But our bowling is equally good, with Shaheen [Shah Afridi] making a comeback, and Haris [Rauf], whom we have seen doing great in the Big Bash League. There's no such pressure from what happened in the past. We can't do anything about it. But yes, we won't repeat the mistakes, and we will play according to our strengths."
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent