Pakistan will be looking to cement their status as one of the leading white-ball teams in cricket when they take on Afghanistan in a three-match ODI series in Sri Lanka, with one eye on the upcoming Asia Cup and World Cup.
Babar Azam's team are currently ranked second in the ICC ODI table and will leapfrog Australia to the top if they defeat Afghanistan by a 3-0 margin.
However, their task will be far from straightforward as Pakistan and Afghanistan have developed one of the most feisty rivalries in cricket, with fans and even players getting into heated altercations.
Afghanistan's strong spin attack, which includes Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Noor Ahmed, will pose the biggest challenge to Pakistan, who will be relying on their world-class pace attack led by Shaheen Afridi.
The opening match of the series takes place in Hambantota on Tuesday.
Following the series, Pakistan will jump straight into the Asia Cup 50-over tournament, which they will be co-hosting with Sri Lanka, before shifting their attention to the World Cup, where they will be one of the strong favourites.
Pakistan coach Grant Bradburn said wants to see his team play an aggressive brand of cricket when they begin the build-up for the World Cup.
“We’re not looking to sit back and wait for bowlers to bowl badly, we’re looking to be aggressive,” Bradburn was quoted as saying by the Associated Press said in Lahore.
“We’re training to use our skills. We’re looking to use those skills in the game. It’s not a request from coaches to players, it’s a necessity for them to be in the team because that’s the way the game is moving forward globally … above all, we want to play winning cricket.”
Pakistan have not played white-ball cricket since last hosting New Zealand for the ODI series in April. Also, most of their players have been playing T20 league cricket. Many, including captain Babar, featured in the Lanka Premier League in order to get acclimatised to local conditions ahead of the Asia Cup.
Fast bowlers Afridi and Haris Rauf, alongside leg-spinners Shadab Khan and Usama Mir, played in The Hundred in England. Captain Babar, Fakhar Zaman, Mohammad Haris, Naseem Shah, Mohammad Nawaz and Iftikhar Ahmed featured in the LPL.
“It’s good that some of the boys have been getting cricket in The Hundred and in the LPL,” Bradburn said. “It’s been excellent that they’ve been able to play cricket.”