ABU DHABI: Pakistan’s one-day skipper Azhar Ali insisted Thursday that his fast developing team is well set to qualify directly for the 2019 World Cup.
Pakistan whitewashed the West Indies 3-0 with a convincing 136-run win in the third and final one-dayer in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.
The series win lifted Pakistan one place to eighth in the current rankings and relegating the West Indies to ninth in the fight for a direct berth at the World Cup finals in three years’ time.
Hosts England and the top seven teams in the one-day rankings on September 30 next year will get a direct place in the World Cup.
The bottom four teams in the standings will be joined by six Associate sides in a 10-team qualifying round in 2018 from where only two teams will qualify.
Azhar said the win over West Indies was important in the quest for a World Cup place.
“It was an important series and it’s just the start of more challenges,” said Azhar.
“We have to keep this improvement with one year to go for the (World Cup 2019) deadline.”
Since the 2015 World Cup, Pakistan had slumped to ninth after being routed 3-0 in Bangladesh and suffering defeats against England (in the United Arab Emirates last year and in England) and New Zealand.
But Ali believes the confidence level of the players was high after the series win over the struggling West Indies.
“We have good players who have gelled well,” said Azhar, who singled out batsman Babar Azam for his three successive hundreds.
“Babar (Azam) stood out in this series and to score consistently with back-to-back hundreds shows that he has that hunger. He has given a world class performance,” said Azhar of the 21-year-old.
Azam scored 120, 123 and 117 in the three matches to become only the third Pakistani and eighth batsmen in all one-day cricket to hit three consecutive hundreds.
Azhar credited new head coach Mickey Arthur with the improvements.
“Mickey has an important role,” said Azhar of the former South African and Australian coach who took over in May this year.
“It’s a full team and the credit also goes to the selection committee, fielding coach Steve Rixon, physio Grant Luden and (batting coach) Grant Flower — all have contributed a lot so it’s a full team.”
Pakistan’s next one-day series will be in Australia early next year and Azhar feels his team has the potential to do well.
“We can challenge Australia as well because we have new players who are match winners.”