By Eddie Chikamhi
Pakistan players were handed a huge boost ahead of their tour of Zimbabwe after skipper Babar Azam grabbed the number one spot in the Men’s One Day International cricket rankings following a series win over South Africa.
The Asians, who are scheduled to arrive in Harare this Saturday, are having a good outing in the neighbouring country where they have bagged the ODI series 2-1 to earn points in the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup Super League.
The Pakistanis are also leading the T20 series 2-1, ahead of the final match on Friday.
Babar ended Indian, Virat Kohli’s 41-month reign after scoring 103, 31 and 94 runs in the series. The latest ranking, which were released after the ODI series. Kohli had sat at the top since replacing AB de Villiers in October 2017.
Babar’s number one ODI ranking supplements his number six Test and number three T20I rankings, which is a hallmark of a fine batsman across all three formats.
Babar is the fourth Pakistan batsman after PCB Hall of Famers Zaheer Abbas and Javed Miandad, and Mohammad Yousuf to peak to the top in the ODI batting table.
“I feel privileged and honoured to have joined the company of stalwarts like Zaheer Abbas, Javed Miandad and Mohammad Yousuf, who will always be the shining stars of Pakistan cricket,” he told the Pakistan Cricket Board website.
“This is another milestone in my career, which will now require even more hard work and absolute consistency with the bat in order for me to hold on to the ranking for an extended period of time, like Sir Vivian Richards from January 1984 to October 1988 and Virat Kohli for 1,258 days.
“I have also previously topped the T20I rankings, but the ultimate ambition and goal is to lead the Test rankings, which are the real testament and reward to a batsman’s calibre, reputation and skills.
I understand to achieve this objective, I will not only have to perform consistently, but more importantly, against the top sides.
“I am looking forward to this challenge and remain confident I will be able to accomplish this target with the support of my team-mates and coaching staff.
“But at this stage, I will savour the moment as it has come almost 18 months after I was first appointed the white-ball captain and that too at the back of my performances that helped Pakistan become the first Asian side to win two ODI series in South Africa.”
Teammate Fakhar Zaman returned to the top-10 following a stellar series against South Africa in which he won the player of the series award, while Shaheen Shah Afridi is just outside the top-10 in the latest rankings.
Fakhar had scores of eight, 193 and 101, which have helped the left-hander jump from 19th to seventh – his career-best ranking to date. His previous best ranking was eighth, which he had achieved following his 138 against England at Southampton in May 2019.
Brendan Taylor is Zimbabwe’s highest ranked Zimbabwean batsman in the ODIs. He sits on number 40 in the world rankings. In the T20I game, Sean Williams, on number 60, ranks tops among the Zimbabwean batsmen.
They will be aiming to improve rankings in Tests and T20Is when they host the Asians this month.
The Pakistan cricket team is expected to arrive in Harare on Saturday ahead of their tour of Zimbabwe for two Test matches and three T20I games at Harare Sports Club.
The visitors are in South Africa for a limited overs series that concludes on Friday.
First up are the T20I series, which begin on Wednesday next week then on April 23 and 25.
The first Test match is scheduled to run from April 29 to May 3, with the second set for May 7-11.
As part of measures to minimise the spread of Covid-19, the series will be held in a bio-secure bubble, which simply refers to an environment that is aimed at keeping the teams relatively isolated from the outside world.
As a result, only those directly involved in the tour, that is the players, technical staffers, match officials and those offering the necessary support services, are the only people who will be permitted access to the stadium and the hotel accommodating the teams.
This will see both Zimbabwe and Pakistan players and support staff undergoing several Covid-19 tests during the tour.