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The Indian challenge
By: Editor | 27-12-2012
Total Views:679

  When Zaheer Abbas first went to India as one of the super stars of Pakistan cricket, he was stunned by the way fans treated the visitors. “Thousands of fans used to wait for hours to just get one glimpse of the Pakistani team. It was unbelievable,” he told me. It has always been like this and when Pakistan would begin their brief five-match series against India in Bangalore on Christmas Day, things would once again be the same for them.  

One of the biggest stars in Pakistan’s touring party for the series is Shahid Afridi. Ask the flamboyant all-rounder and he would tell you that when it comes to cricket-crazy fans very few countries can match the Indians.  “If playing against India in Pakistan is fun then playing against them in their own country is even better,” says Afridi.

“If there are crazier cricket fans than the Pakistanis anywhere in the world then they are in India. They really worship cricket and that craze adds to the Pakistan-India rivalry.”  When it comes to Pakistan-India matches, it’s always difficult to pick a winner.

Due to the intense rivalry between the two nations, players from both sides can be really unpredictable.  “In games involving Pakistan and India there are no pre-match favourites,” says Afridi. “It all depends on how you play on that particular day. If you give your best in spite of all the pressure and any other disadvantages and the result would go your way.

It can happen against any side but it happens more often when we are playing against India.”  He may have been unable to impress against them in recent outings, but India have mostly been Afridi’s favourite opponents. Whether it was his Test best of 156 in Faisalabad or the one-day blitz in Kanpur, Afridi loves flaying Indian bowlers.

 “For me, India are the ultimate opponents,” says the former captain. “I always liked playing against them, knowing fully well that even those people who don’t otherwise follow cricket would be watching back home. For me an Indo-Pak series is far bigger than the Ashes.”  

I always thought Afridi’s favourite cricketing memory would be his 37-ball century against Sri Lanka at the Nairobi Gymkhana which he hit as a teenager playing only his second ODI. Still a world record, that feat pushed Afridi into international limelight.  But that’s not the case. When Afridi thinks about his most cherished performance, he thinks about that match-winning hundred in Chennai back in the winter of 1999.

It came during Pakistan’s first Test against India in nine years. Afridi, still a rookie with a big question mark over his Test credentials, smashed a stunning 141 to play a key role in helping Pakistan win the series opener by 12 runs in an enthralling finish on the fourth day.

I may have been noticed by cricket fans after my fastest ton in Nairobi but it was my Test century in Chennai against India that made me what I am today,” stresses Afridi. “I remember it as my best because we won that Test and that too against India in India. It doesn’t get better than that.

What if that 141 had come against any other side? Would it still be his best knock ever? “A century is a century against any team but for a Pakistani cricketer it’s much more special if it comes against the Indians. That’s the way it is,” says Aamir Sohail, the former Pakistan skipper.

Personally, I always enjoyed playing against India,” he says. “It’s high pressure but stakes are also high because it’s a tailor-made opportunity for you to become an instant star.” Sohail’s tip for Misbah-ul-Haq and Mohammad Hafeez — the two men who would be leading Pakistan in India — is to enjoy the game. “The name of the game is to enjoy the pressure rather succumbing to it.

Aamir believes that pressure can only affect your game if your basics aren’t right. “You can achieve good results against any side if you do your basics right,” he emphasises. “Your focus should be to perform. In cricket, like in any walk of life, it’s all about the basics. Pressure is going to be your enemy only if you are out of form or you don’t think that you are good enough to take it. Otherwise, pressure can bring the best out of you.

Sohail is of the view that Mohammad Hafeez and Nasir Jamshed are the two players who can make the biggest difference for Pakistan on the short tour. “I think Hafeez and Nasir Jamshed will have to perform well if Pakistan are to achieve good results in India.
(courtesy: Jang News)

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