By Wisden India staff in Mirpur
Pakistan captain says Shahid Afridi is available for selection and raring to go even though he’s not yet recovered fully from hip strain
Until the last three months, Shahid Afridi was playing in the Pakistan limited-overs team almost exclusively as a bowler, his batting exploits being few and far between.
Since July 2013, when he made a 55-ball 76 against West Indies in Providence, Afridi topped 30 only once in 14 innings, but showed signs of returning to his marauding ways of the past when he slammed 34 off 12 deliveries and 30 not out off 15 deliveries in successive games against Sri Lanka in November in the UAE.
Afridi showed more than glimpses of his batting touch in the Asia Cup earlier this month, hammering an unbeaten 34 off 18 deliveries to win the game against India off his own bat and followed it up with 59 off 25 deliveries as Pakistan overhauled Bangladesh’s 326 for 3 in the next game.
He hobbled through the final against Sri Lanka, laid low by a hip flexor strain, and joined Pakistan’s ICC World Twenty20 2014 squad a good four days after the rest of the team arrived in Bangladesh, though he did take part in the warm-up game against South Africa on Wednesday (March 19) and came away relatively unscathed.
“Afridi’s fitness has improved quite a bit. He has made himself available for everything,” said Mohammad Hafeez, the Pakistan captain, a day before his team’s tournament opener against India. “This is a good sign. He’s not 100% still but he’s ready and fit to play this tournament. He is eager to put in a good performance.
“He is in good form, we have seen that in the Asia Cup,” Hafeez pointed out. “It is a good sign for us because we always wanted him to bat lower down the order and finish the game well for Pakistan. It is great to know that he is in good nick and a good frame of mind. It is always great that your senior players are looking forward to the challenges ahead.”
Hafeez was excited at the prospect of taking on India straightaway, though he remained unfazed at Pakistan’s 0-8 record against the old enemy in World Cup play. “We all know that we have been waiting for his moment. All the players are looking forward to this and we are happy that the first game is against India. As far as history is concerned, we don’t really look into it. We know that every day will give you the opportunity to do well and we as a team are always looking forward to the next day. Whatever happens, good or bad, is always history and that will not count. So far as we are concerned, we always want to perform well against any team.
“It is always great to know the expectations of the people and the fans around the world,” said Hafeez, acknowledging the pressure of having to beat India. “We are considering only one game at a time. Yes, the India-Pakistan game is always important but this is not the whole tournament and we want to give a good show in the whole tournament. The first game is important as you want to do well in that game so that you can get the momentum right. Hopefully, the boys will do well to get the best results for Pakistan.”
Hafeez said Pakistan’s familiarity with conditions in Bangladesh will help the team immensely. “It will definitely help us as we were here for the Asia Cup as well, so the boys are very much aware of these conditions,” he said. “That is going to really help the team and at the same time, the Indian team also has a similar sort of experience playing in Bangladesh. Both teams have got the same experience in playing in these conditions; whoever plays well on the day will win the game.”
Pakistan was blasted out for 71 in its second warm-up game against South Africa, but Hafeez chose not to read too much into it. “It’s not that every day has to be great. Some days are good and some bad,” he said, philosophically. “We have good batsmen in our team. In the second practice match, our objective was to give a few people time in the middle. We achieved that.”
Umar Gul, the pace spearhead, had a pretty forgettable Asia Cup, but Hafeez was pleased at the progress he had made in the last two weeks. “He is working very hard. After the Asia Cup where he did not do too well, he has picked up and performed well in the practice matches. That is all you want from your players. All they can do is work hard. Form can go up and down but if they are willing to work hard, it sends the right signal through the team. That is exactly what Gul has done.”