Pakistan created history on November 1 when the national team climbed one spot to become the number one ranked side in the International Cricket Council ICC T20 rankings for the first time ever.
The development came about when New Zealand, who were the previously top-ranked team, were beaten by India by 53 runs in the first of three Twenty20 Internationals between the two sides.
To maintain the number one ranking, however, Pakistan will need New Zealand to lose the series against India.
Pakistan’s top-ranked status doesn’t just owe itself to the helping hand provided by India. The national team has been on a roll in limited-overs cricket, and specifically Twenty20 cricket, ever since Sarfraz Ahmed took over the reins of captaincy. The wicket-keeper led Pakistan to a convincing 3-0 whitewash of the touring Sri Lankans last month. That series win also played a crucial role in the national team ascending the top spot.
Since the start of 2017, Pakistan have lost only two of 10 Twenty20 Internationals they have played during the year, winning series against West Indies, the World XI and now Sri Lanka. The last of these series also had the added distinction of featuring a match in Lahore – the third Twenty20 International – marking the return of high-profile cricket to the country after the 2009 attack on the Sri Lankan team, which also occurred in Lahore. Before this, Pakistan had only managed to host Zimbabwe in 2015 and a World XI team in September. The return of international cricket points towards an improved security situation in the country and increased trust that cricketing authorities now have in the Pakistan Cricket Board.
Pakistan’s ascent to the top of the Twenty20 rankings marks a remarkable turnaround for the national team’s fortunes in the shortest form of the game. Not too long ago Pakistan were languishing close to the bottom of the ICC T20 rankings and had performed abysmally at the 2016 World Twenty20. Since then Sarfraz has been able to mould a young team consisting of highly talented players possessing plenty of natural flair, skills and the ability to perform under pressure. The exploits of Shadab Khan, Hasan Ali, Babar Azam and Imad Wasim have been complemented by the performances of senior hands like Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik and Sarfraz himself.
Besides the brilliance displayed in Twenty20 cricket, Pakistan also clinched the 2017 Champions Trophy in June, indicating that the national team is all set to climb up the One-Day International rankings as well in the future. The ultimate challenge for Sarfraz, however, will be to fill the huge void left by the retirements of Misbahul Haq and Younus Khan from the Test side. Their departures had a visible impact on Pakistan’s showing in the longest format of the game with the national team losing 2-0 to Sri Lanka in the recent Test series held in the UAE.
Nevertheless the huge improvement in limited-overs performances is an indicator of a bright future ahead for Pakistan cricket.