Pakistan were supposed to have qualified for the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 a few months ago but fate had other plans for the team. The away series against Bangladesh in April 2015 did not turn out to be as planned for the green-shirts. Being a weak opponent in past, Bangladesh were underestimated and taken lightly but the Bengal Tigers defeated the visitors in their den and made their own chance of qualifying for the big tournament bright. Pakistan were driven down to ninth in the ICC One Day International Rankings, with West Indies being in eighth. This was the first series for new Pakistani skipper, Azhar Ali, after Misbah-ul-haq retired from the ODI format at the end of the World Cup.
The ICC Champions Trophy is the second most prestigious fifty-over tournament organized by the ICC. This tournament has been held every two years since 1998 but after 2009 it has been and will continue to be held every four years. Australia and India have won the title twice, while Sri Lanka, New Zealand, West Indies and South Africa have all won it once. The best results for Pakistan were qualifying for the semi-final in 2000, 2004 and 2009.
Pakistan’s Champions Trophy Qualification
For any team to qualify for the ICC Champions Trophy, they must be in top eight of the rankings. This meant that Pakistan, for the first time in their cricket history, were on the verge of not being able to play in the tournament. Later that May, the home series against Zimbabwe brought back hope for Pakistan. After winning all three ODIs against a comparatively weak side at home, Pakistan had to do a lot of hard work to secure their spot in as the next series was against a much stronger Sri Lankan team.
To acquire eighth spot, all Pakistan needed was a series win. Azhar Ali lead the team young players along with a few experienced ones to the first ODI win. They lost the second ODI though, but came back stronger in the third and fourth ODIs, wining them both and securing the five match series 3-1. The fifth ODI is still to be played on 26th July at Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium, Hambantota (13:30 PST), but the result of that match would not affect Pakistan’s ranking, hence letting them qualify for the tournament in 2017.
A tri-nation tournament was being arranged by the cricket boards of West Indies, Zimbabwe and Pakistan. The venue was to be Zimbabwe and the tournament was supposed to be held in August this year.
As Pakistan has qualified for the Champions Trophy, the Pakistan Cricket Board’s think-tank has decided to postpone the tour of Zimbabwe in order to avoid any chances of losing ODIs and ultimately losing points. The PCB don’t want Pakistan to play any ODIs to ensure their spot in the Champions Trophy.
A point to be pondered over is that if Pakistan lose their last ODI against Sri Lanka, the quest for final spot in the Champions Trophy might become too close. If the West Indies were to arrange a ODI series and win it then Pakistan would be in trouble again. This might force PCB officials to re-think their decision. They are considering a T20 triangular tournament in place of the ODI tri-series, keeping the above reason in mind. West Indies will be the third team after Pakistan and the hosts, Zimbabwe, to play in this series.
The PCB have only thought about this idea and not yet informed Zimbabwe Cricket about this officially. This means that the decision still has a chance of being changed. Time will tell as to what is decided about the tour of Zimbabwe and whether the triangular cup will be held or not. Will there be a T20 triangular tournament or an ODI tri-series , or will there be nothing at all?
One thing is very clear. The PCB will surely send their team to Zimbabwe for a fully-fledged tour in the near future that will comprise of Tests, One Day Internationals and Twenty20s. This will be a small thanks to Zimbabwe, who sent their team to Pakistan to end the International cricket exile this country had been facing for six long years.