Friday, Dec 02, 2022

ICC World T20: In India, Shahid Afridi at home away from home

Pakistan skipper Shahid Afridid says his team feel they have more following in India than in their own country.

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9.20 am: Pakistan check in at Eden Gardens – their first practice session for the World T20. A decent number of fans have turned up to take a close look at the stars – Shahid Afridi to be precise. But the brief for the security personnel is to quarantine the place. Disappointed, the crowd plays peek-a-boo for a while. Some shout ‘jitega bhai jitega, India jitega’. But they eventually disperse. (Full Coverage|| Fixtures||Photos)

11.05 am: Afridi puts his pads on, goes into the nets and the lensmen get busy. A forward defensive shot on the first ball is sort of anticlimax. The Pakistan T20 captain makes amends soon, hitting a thunderous lofted drive that almost knocks Mohammad Amir’s head off.

11.37 am: A fresh and chirpy-looking Afridi arrives for the press conference – arguably the most high profile pre-tournament media event so far. He starts off with a message for the Indian fans: “Indians love cricket. They want to see Pakistan play here. I have always enjoyed playing cricket here. I’m on the last legs of my career, but the love and affection we have gotten from the people here is something I will remember for the rest of my life.”

Drama and uncertainty preceded Pakistan’s arrival, and questions on that come along the expected lines. Afridi offers a straight bat. “I don’t think it affected out preparations. We had been practicing there. Physically and mentally we were ready; that we would definitely come.”

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The Pakistan Cricket Board had given the pullout option to its players for this tournament. No one budged. Does that mean the cricketers never had an issue? Afridi explains: “Whatever decisions our government takes, we support that. But we are professional cricketers and not politicians. We are hugely loved in India; have more fan-following here than Pakistan. Sports always brings the two nations together and there can’t anything better than cricket (to bridge the gap). I think we should keep politics away from it.”

Kolkata seems to have become the cricketing destination of the country ever since the ICC has moved the marquee India versus Pakistan fixture from Dharamsala. Both sides have some history to fall back on – India enjoying an all-win record against their arch-rivals in the ICC events, while Pakistan haven’t ever lost a limited-overs game at Eden Gardens. Afridi prefers to live in the present. “We would like to keep the World Cup thing away, for thinking about it ushers in negativity. At the same time, Eden brings good memories. India have been playing very good cricket. But we ran them close in the Asia Cup, defending a very small total. Virat (Kohli) and Yuvi (Yuvraj Singh) took the game away from us. But it’s a different game (on March 19) and our body language would be good. The first game (against a qualifier on March 16) would be very important. You take rhythm from the opener.”

Rough ride

Afridi will complete 20 years in international cricket in October. It hasn’t always been a smooth ride, especially as a captain. Cricket captains are prone to harsh criticisms in this part of the world and the Pakistani swashbuckler has had a fair share of it. “If you play for 20 years, you will see ups and downs. Players who can face difficulties come through. I have performed and answered my critics,” said Afridi


Afridi, however, spoke about a leadership group in the team for the World T20. “In a big tournament like this, responsibilities get shared. Senior players like me, Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez will take the pressure. I have to contribute with the bat.”

Afridi has been struggling for form of late, scoring 2 and 0 against India and Bangladesh respectively in the Asia Cup.

In the PSL also, he had only 87 runs in 10 matches for Peshawar Zalmi. But the skipper blames poor application for the team’s Asia Cup debacle. “We didn’t play according to team plan. If we execute our plans, we should do well here.”


Coming back to bilateral relations, Malik adds to the feel-good factor. “I’m honoured to be here in India. We are the same people and speak the same language. My wife (Sania Mirza) is from India. I come here a lot. I never had any security problems.”

On the field, however, Pakistan have been playing catch-up as far as T20 cricket is concerned and the senior middle-order batsman agrees that the need of the hour is to be on par with the best in the world. “If you look at Rohit (Sharma), AB (de Villiers), (Suresh) Raina, Kohli – a lot cricketers (have improved) since they started playing the IPL. PSL will have a similar effect,” said Malik.

For Pakistan, focus will now shift to cricket as they start their campaign with a warm-up fixture against Sri Lanka on Monday. A side that swings between sublime and ludicrous, the challenge would be to achieve consistency. Fast bowling is their main weapon with Mohammad Amir leading the pack. But Afridi knows, for them to succeed on Indian soil, it is the batsmen who will have to come good.

First published on: 14-03-2016 at 01:06:29 am
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