United Pakistan seek World Cup glory

Shahid Afridi has laid down the markers for those who would underestimate Pakistan in this World Cup. They are, he said, the ‘most dangerous side in the World Cup’, and has pointed to the mix of youth and experience that has drawn parallels, however tenuous, with the side that won the tournament almost 20 years ago.

“We all know how important the competition is for my country,” Afridi said in his first World Cup press conference in Mirpur. “This is a message for the other teams: No one can underestimate us. And when I said dangerous, [I meant] don’t underestimate the Pakistan team. We are with a very good bunch of youngsters and experienced players. It is good to see Kamran Akmal back in the team, Misbah [ul-Haq] too is in good form and so is Younis [Khan]. We also have two genuine spinners and a fast bowler like Shoaib Akhtar.”

While Imran Khan did not have to rebuild a side ravaged by controversy, there are a few similarities between this Afridi-led team and the triumphant side of 1992. Imran was missing a devastating opening bowler in an injured Waqar Younis, and his team also had a mix of young talent and experience.

Afridi, though lacking Imran’s tactical nous, is capable of firing up his side and after their twin success in New Zealand last month (1-0 in Tests and 3-2 in ODIs); they are high on confidence and team spirit. “Pitches around the world are very similar. I think as we performed well in New Zealand conditions, we’ll feel more confident on Asian tracks.

“We’ve gone through a very tough situation. As a captain I’m very happy because we were trying to rebuild the team and boost its morale. The team has gelled. We keep these (controversial) issues out of the team and we are focused on the cricket … We played well in New Zealand and the boys are united and they feel hungry.”

Afridi also offered praise for the job done by the team’s coach, Waqar Younis, and manager, Intikhab Alam, in keeping everyone together. “I, Inti bhai and Waqar Younis are trying to keep the team as a unit. Our dressing room atmosphere is much better. We are trying to keep the boys as close as we can and Alhamdulillah, we are being very successful.”

In the same way as the 1992 team was practically built for Australian conditions, the 2011 version has enough versatility to conquer the subcontinent. But after the country was stripped of their rights to host the World Cup in 2009, it is an easy question to ask Afridi. Is the team happy playing in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and possibly India? Afridi didn’t hesistate: “We have very good support in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. [And] if we win the World Cup, it would be a good message for world cricket that we want to play cricket, and maybe next time it will be held in Pakistan as well.”

He admits being named World Cup captain just two weeks before the event (exactly one week ago) was difficult, but Afridi said he was “focusing on my performance. I am always enjoying my role as a captain and as a player so I didn’t take it very seriously.”

When the possibility of playing a certain opponent in the final was raised, his jaded face broke into a smile. “It would be great to see Pakistan and India in the final.” If things go the way Pakistan expect, he will be asked this one question over and over again.


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