After Pakistan clinched their maiden ICC Champions Trophy crown, former skipper Shahid Afridi on Monday rated his side as one of the serious contenders for the 50-over World Cup title, to be played in England and Wales in 2019.
On Sunday, Pakistan outclassed traditional rivals India by a mammoth 180-run margin to lift the title at The Oval, prompting Afridi to say that Pakistan cricket is back on track, especially after narrowly managing to qualify as the lowest-ranked side in the eight-team Champions Trophy.
In his column for the International Cricket Council (ICC) website, the swashbuckling all-rounder cautioned other cricketing nations to not take the Green Brigade lightly as on their day they have the potential to outshine any good side.
"The teams that might have taken Pakistan lightly in this event will never dare to repeat such a mistake again and whatever the lead-up to the 2019 World Cup may be like, Pakistan will be a serious contender for the trophy," Afridi wote.
"The Champions Trophy 2017 has been a memorable event and Pakistani fans will remember it for a very long time indeed. The fans, especially the youngsters who saw the team dethrone India, will be inspired to replicate the performances of their heroes in the years to come.
"The 1992 World Cup win gave us a new generation of match winners and this win ranks very close to that. I am confident that Pakistan cricket is back on track and we will see this team reach some incredible highs in the years to come, especially if the team continues to play with the kind of passion and commitment displayed in this tournament," he added.
Commenting on the celebrations after the triumph at The Oval, Afridi said it took him back to 2009 when Pakistan lifted the World T20 title.
"The joyous scenes reminded me of our World T20 win in 2009 where I was lucky to play a match-winning role for my team in the semi-final and final," he wrote.
"The turnaround has left the world bewildered and has brought a wave of ecstasy and unbridled joy for Pakistanis all around the world. As soon as the game ended, celebrations mirroring the 1992 World Cup and 2009 World T20 wins began across the country."
Afridi also exuded confidence that the Sarfraz Ahmed-led young brigade can become one of the top three teams in the world if they continue to produce such performances consistently.
"Pakistan, meanwhile, has a team that can develop into one of the top three teams by the time the 2019 World Cup is played in England. This squad is built around exciting young talent and has an astute and passionate leader in Sarfraz," Afridi wrote.
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