“We’re blessed with some of the greats in Twenty20 cricket, especially (Saeed) Ajmal and (Shahid) Afridi,” said Mohammad Hafeez of his premier spinners on the eve of Pakistan’s opening Super Eights Group 2 fixture against South Africa at the ICC World Twenty20 2012. “I think this is our main strength at the moment.
“We rely on our fast bowlers as well, but unfortunately they couldn’t do well in the group matches. But we are really confident that they will come out with some good performances. Umar Gul is one of them, always good with reverse swing. As a team, we’re really confident that our fast bowlers will contribute for the team. But yes, we do look up to our spinners – they will win matches for Pakistan like they’ve done over the last two years.”
Unlike some of the other captains who have said that the tournament proper actually begins now, Hafeez had a different point of view. “We’re not thinking that the tournament has started now, the tournament has already started and we as a team are playing really good cricket,” he said. “The conditions will change now (Pakistan played its group matches in Pallekele), so adjustability will be a factor. But as a team, we have played enough cricket in Colombo to know the conditions well. The boys are really looking forward to the Super Eights because every team is a tough team and we’ll really have to work hard.
“Personally, as a captain I believe in trying my best to give confidence to all the players. Everybody is a match-winner in our team and we’re really trying to keep everyone in shape; they’re all responding really well.”
Gul has had a difficult time of it so far, going for 1 for 39 in his four overs against New Zealand, and 0 for 43 in three against Bangladesh. “Gul himself is so experienced, has played so much cricket that he knows how to handle these things,” said Hafeez. “He realises by himself if his basics aren’t working properly. The good thing is that he is very focused in practice sessions, working really hard. (Mohammad) Akram (the bowling coach) is doing a lot of work with him and the rest. We’re not worried about him because he is a match-winner. Anyone can have a bad day but his positive attitude is a good sign that he will get his rhythm back.”
This is being touted as a battle between Pakistan’s spin attack and South Africa’s pace strength. “South Africa rely on their pace attack and we know that,” said Hafeez. “But it’s all about the strategy of the team. We rely on our spinners because we have some really special bowlers in the side like Ajmal. He’s been producing the goods for the last two years.
“Afridi is another one, we’re really happy he has got his form back. He bowled well in the last game and is getting better every day. Yes, South Africa will rely on their pace and we’re ready to take them on. They’ve got one of the best attacks at the moment with (Dale) Steyn and (Morne) Morkel, but this is what it is all about. Every team has different strengths and we’re ready to take them on.”
South Africa is ranked No. 1 in the ICC Twenty20 rankings, but Hafeez said his team wouldn’t get bogged down by the prospect of playing the top side in the world. “As a team, we are taking it match by match,” he said. “We’re not looking at any big picture. We’re looking at our game against South Africa, who are a good side. It’s not that they are No. 1 or No. 10, we are just trying to win every match and we plan according to that. All the boys are very confident coming in, and morale is high. We’ll go in to tomorrow’s game with confidence.”