Pakistan launch their quest to make sure of an automatic qualifying spot at the 2019 World Cup in England when they face Ireland in two one-day internationals at Malahide, near Dublin, on Thursday (August 18) and Saturday (August 20).
The fixtures, Pakistan’s lead in to a five-match ODI series against England, come with the 1992 world champions languishing in ninth place in the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) team rankings for the 50-over format.
Hosts England and the seven highest-ranked sides in the table come September 30 next year will qualify directly for the World Cup.
Meanwhile, the bottom four teams in the standings will be joined by six sides from below cricket’s international elite for a 10-team qualifying competition in 2018.
The top two sides from that tournament will complete the 10-strong line-up at the 2019 World Cup.
Pakistan are currently seven points behind eighth-placed West Indies.
In order to go ahead of the West Indies in the next month, Pakistan will have to win all their matches against non-Test nation Ireland and England, but good results in both series will help them close the gap.
For Ireland, currently ranked 12th, a 2-0 series win over Pakistan would see them leapfrog Zimbabwe and Afghanistan into 10th place.
Only six of the Pakistan players who took part in the exciting Test series in England – which they drew 2-2 with a four-day victory at the Oval on Sunday (August 15) – stay on for the ODIs, in a 15-man squad captained by Azhar Ali.
“Ireland are always a tough team, more so in their own conditions,” Azhar told reporters.
“If you look at their recent performances in World Cup matches they have done very well. But we have new players who are very confident,” the 31-year-old batsman added.
“The performance of the Test team is an encouragement for the ODI team so we will carry that same momentum and passion. It was a big challenge for the Test team because a lot of people used to say that we are only good in our own conditions.
“But the Test team has done well (in England) and the ODI team will take their lead from that.”
Sami Aslam, Mohammad Hafeez and Azhar are the only specialist batsmen who keep their places from the Test squad along with bowlers Mohammad Amir, Wahab Riaz and Yasir Shah.
“We have two very good young spinners in Imad Waseem and Mohammad Nawaz, then we have Yasir and Shoaib Malik so they can be handy,” said Azhar.
Pakistan’s one-day squad also features the return of experienced pace bowler Umar Gul.
Gul, 32, who played against Ireland in Pakistan’s shock World Cup defeat back in 2007, has not appeared in 50-over international cricket for 16 months, but his experience of English conditions has seen him replace the giant Mohammad Irfan.
Ireland were dealt a huge blow on Tuesday with the news that former England pace bowler Boyd Rankin has not only been ruled out of the series but the rest of the season, including the ODIs in Benoni at the end of next month against South Africa and Australia.
Rankin suffered a fracture of his left leg when training for Warwickshire’s ongoing English County Championship game against Surrey.
Ireland have decided not to replace Rankin in their 14-man squad, happy with the return of Craig Young following elbow surgery and the impressive ODI debut of Durham’s Barry McCarthy in the recent series against Sri Lanka.
Thursday’s game will be the seventh ODI between the teams.
Pakistan have won four, most recently in the final World Cup group game at Adelaide last year by seven wickets when both Ireland captain William Porterfield and Pakistan’s Sarfraz Ahmed scored centuries.