Opening its campaign with win in high-pressure match against India will make the other games easier, says Pakistan captain
They call him The Professor, and it isn’t difficult to see why. Mohammad Hafeez has a sharp brain, is calm and unflustered, is happy to speak his mind and does so without inhibition or disinterest. Indeed, if there is one professorial trait that is missing in Pakistan’s Twenty20 International captain, it is the lack of the absent-mindedness that is such a stereotyped trait of most professors.
It was inevitable, in his first interaction with the media since the Pakistan team landed in Dhaka for the ICC World Twenty20 2014, that Hafeez would be asked less about the tournament and more about the match – against India on March 21 at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium, the match that will kick off the Super 10 stage of the competition.
“I have always maintained that an India-Pakistan game is full of pressure,” said Hafeez on Saturday (March 15), well aware that it was going to be only the first of several questions on the match in question. “You enjoy playing it. We as a team are very happy and as a captain, I am delighted that the first match itself is such that if we do well in that game, then the ones to follow will look easier as far as pressure is concerned. Of course, you can’t take any team lightly in this tournament but this is the kind of match which we will hope to take off well from.”
Pakistan has a tiny psychological edge over India, having eked out a thrilling one-wicket win at the same venue just over a week ago in the 50-over Asia Cup. Since that game, India has been fortified by the return of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the regular skipper, and Twenty20 specialists Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh, but Hafeez said Pakistan could ill afford to reflect on the Indian personnel absent then and present now.
“I believe that whichever team is put out is the best team of that country,” he observed. “The team that played in the Asia Cup was India’s best team for that tournament. We beat them. The absence of any one individual or his return to the side doesn’t make that much difference. But there are some key players in the team, having whom is very good for that team. In that context, MS Dhoni’s leadership — there is no doubt that he has led the Indian team very well in the last six years. But we are not going into the match thinking we won in the Asia Cup because he wasn’t there or that it will be difficult now because Dhoni is in the Indian team. We will try to perform well against any team that is put out against us.”
Reflecting on the drama that surrounds an Indo-Pak game, Hafeez recalled their short limited-overs tour of India in 2012-13, Pakistan’s first visit to India for a bilateral series of any nature since 2007. “When we came to India in 2012, the first match was in Bangalore. We could see that when we hit good shots and they went to the boundary, no one clapped for us,” he smiled. “This is one of those things you enjoy immensely – you know that if the crowd is silent, you have done something right, so you try to keep the crowd silent. That is also a motivating factor, it gives you extreme pleasure.”
There is more to Group 2, however, than just India and Pakistan. It also includes Australia and West Indies, the defending champions, and Hafeez said his team was mindful of the other challenges in what is being labelled the Group of Death. “No team is easy in this format and especially in a tournament of this nature. Our group has all the favourites of the tournament, all the teams that are fancied to win the title are in our group,” he pronounced. “It is again a good challenge for the team that you have to give your best to win every game. We will enjoy it more and try to ensure that if we do well here and go forward, the obstacles ahead can be cleared easily.
“We are here to go all the way, we are not here just for the one game. The media and people will focus more on the India game because it is about more pressure and it is something people want to watch. But we are not targeting only one team. We have our plans against Australia and West Indies as well. They are very good sides, they are performing well. West Indies is the current champion, we believe they are a very good side. We have got to make our plans against them as well and we are very much ready for this.”
Conditions in Bangladesh are expected to assist the spinners, even in the T20 game, and while Hafeez admitted that it would give the subcontinental teams an advantage of some kind, all other teams with good spinners too would be equally dangerous. “Conditions give you (an) edge, there is no doubt, because the conditions allow you to make the best combination,” he pointed out. “We know that in the subcontinent, spinners make a huge impact. In the subcontinental teams, you will see some of the greats like Saeed Ajmal, R Ashwin and Shahid Afridi. The spinners will enjoy these conditions very much. But that is for everyone, not just the subcontinental teams. Everyone will come into this tournament with all the preparation.
“We believe that we have got a very balanced side and the selectors have done a very good job to select the best team out of the best players. In the recent past, we have performed very well in this format. We believe in each other, we support each other. This is the strength of the team. We are convinced we can do great stuff in this tournament.”
Shahid Afrid, the belligerent allrounder who appears to have rediscovered his batting mojo, hasn’t yet arrived here, nursing as he is a groin injury, but Hafeez said Afridi was a certain starter and that he had helped the team wrest momentum going into this competition. “Afrid is fit, his rehab is going on. We have given him some extra time so that he joins the team after he is fully fit. He is joining us on March 17 and I hope he will recover very well.
“Momentum plays a big role in any tournament, and I believe we’ve got that momentum as a team. We played good cricket in the Asia Cup, win or lose will not make any difference. When you play good cricket, you can guarantee yourself that you will do well. The way Afridi has given finishing touches in the recent past is a positive sign that the lower middle order has a player who can finish the match well.”