Number one

The rise to the top of T20 rankings is yet another milestone for Pakistan cricket, writes K Shahid

Number one
In little over the past 12 months, Pakistan have won the ICC Test mace, Champions Trophy and now reached the top of the T20 rankings last week. This means that the team has reached the pinnacle of all three formats of the game, by reaching the top of the ranking in Tests and T20s, and winning the second biggest ICC ODI tournament after the World Cup.

Pakistan became the top T20 team, when their predecessors New Zealand lost to India by 53 runs, for the first time. That meant New Zealand went down to number two, with India remaining at the fifth spot in the rankings.

Since the format was streamlined little over a decade ago, this is the first time that Pakistan have reached the top of the T20 rankings. The Test mace was similarly the first time that the side topped the rankings in the new format – the second time overall.

Had it not been for the Test series defeat against Sri Lanka in the UAE last month – attributed by the victorious camp to ‘witchcraft’ – Pakistan would be in a rarest of rare positions in being the dominant force in all three formats, simultaneously.

Shadab Khan

Pakistan's recent successes in ODIs and T20s are down to two prominent factors: PSL and Sarfraz Ahmed

While the Test slump was inevitable with Misbah-ul-Haq, the most successful captain in Pakistan’s history and architect of the team’s dominance in that format, retiring at the same time as Younus Khan, Pakistan’s most prolific batsman in Tests, there is no reason that the team won’t regain their groove. In any case, Pakistan’s next Test assignment is more than six months away, and it’s the shorter formats that dominate the schedule in the near future.

Pakistan’s recent successes in ODIs and T20s, which remained elusive in recent years, are down to two prominent factors.

The first is the Pakistan Super League (PSL), which has started paying dividends even before establishing itself among the elites of the T20 franchises. And how!

Pakistan are the top ranked T20 side and the Champions Trophy winners with only two seasons of the PSL under the belt. And this is no forced correlation – those at the forefront of Pakistan’s successes are all PSL graduates.

It is PSL that gave the world the likes of Hasan Ali – now the top ranked ODI bowler in the world – Shadab Khan, the most promising young leg-spinning all-rounder in the world, and Fakhar Zaman who was instrumental in Pakistan’s Champions Trophy win, bagging the Man of the Match in the final against India.

Babar Azam

The second factor, also related to the first, is the captaincy of Sarfraz Ahmed. He was always considered captaincy material since leading Pakistan to the Under 19 World Cup win in 2006, but his first true taste of captaincy at the highest level was when he led Quetta Gladiators in the first season of the PSL – taking them all the way to the final.

Sarfraz has injected much needed impetus in the side, and his proactive captaincy has reflected in the players’ performances, most notably in the visible lift that one can see in the standards of fielding.

For T20s in particular, fielding is absolutely critical. Pakistan have progressively improved this facet of the game which has long been their Achilles’ heel, and the levels depicted in the two recent series – against Sri Lanka and the World XI – were as good as Pakistan have ever displayed.

Hasan Ali

Sarfraz Ahmed

Of course, reaching the summit – even if a world-beating achievement – is one thing and remaining there a whole different level of challenge.

Pakistan have West Indies coming to Lahore later this month, which would mean that the current top side would be hosting the third ranked T20 side, in what promises to be an absolute belter of a series.

In the longer run, the ODI World Cup in England in the summer of 2019, and the World T20 in Australia in 2020 are the obvious goals for the side. And with youth forming the core of the side, Pakistan should be in peak condition to challenge for major silverware.