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Pakistan well-prepared for World Cup opener against India, says Babar

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LAHORE: While underlining that Pakistan’s record against India in World Cups is a story of the past, captain Babar Azam on Wednesday said his players were well prepared to produce their best show in their ICC T20 World Cup opener against the arch-rivals to take a winning start that would put them on the right track to clinch the coveted title.

“I am happy and proud of leading Pakistan at the mega event. We know its pressure and our first match [against India] is a highly intensive game; we will try to win that one and then keep up the momentum in the remaining games to win the World Cup,” Babar said while addressing a virtual press conference here on Wednesday, the rest day in the national training camp at the Gaddafi Stadium.

Holding the second position in the ICC T20 rankings for batters, top spot in ODI batting rankings and seventh in Tests, the 26-year-old Babar will be leading the national team for the first time at the T20 World Cup being held in the UAE and Oman from Oct 17 to Nov 14.

In their blockbuster match at the mega event, Pakistan take on arch-rivals India on Oct 24 in Dubai.

Answering a question, Babar who will celebrate his 27th birthday on Oct 15 the day when the national squad leaves for the UAE, did not show concerns about Pakistan’s winless record against India in T20 World Cups in which the greenshirts have lost five times against their traditional rivals, including the final of the inaugural 2007 T20 World Cup in Johannesburg.

“Yes our record against India in World Cups is not good but past is past, we have forgotten it and are focusing on what is coming ahead and for this we are well prepared. I have confidence that our batters and bowlers will give their best on the given day,” the right-handed Babar remarked.

When asked if Pakistan had prepared any specific plan against India, Babar said: “It is a game of mindset and special focus [in the match] against India is on how to handle pressure in a better way as the rest is all about cricket.”

Responding to the general opinion held by a number of critics who were not willing to rate the current Pakistan side highly for winning the World Cup, Babar sounded confident.

“Everyone has their own point of view but as captain I have full confidence and belief that we will do our best. The most important factor for us is to be focused on playing good cricket and plan on match-to-match basis in order to win every game,” Babar, who has scored 2,204 runs in 61 T20 Internationals at a very impressive average of 46.89, emphasised.

Babar, who has overtaken his relatively more experienced competitor Indian captain Virat Kohli in the ICC rankings of T20 and ODIs, made his international debut in 2015 while the Indian captain came to the international arena back in 2008.

Asked if he was satisfied with the selection of the team that contained a number of seniors on his demand like Sarfaraz Ahmad, Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez, Babar said their inclusion would benefit Pakistan.

“Everyone who is in the team has [good] performances in the domestic [T20] tournament. The presence of senior players in the dressing room will benefit Pakistan. They have a lot of experience and we have to learn from their experience. We have seven to eight of those players in the team who were in the [2017] ICC Champions Trophy-winning side,” Babar said.

Responding to the notion that the Pakistan batting line-up was revolving only around Babar and Mohammad Rizwan and in this regard what he expected from veterans Hafeez and Malik, Babar was upbeat about the senior pros standing tall when it really mattered.

“We will try to come up to the expectations of the nation; the way we are getting public response through media it urges every player to feel and take up the responsibility for which they [batters] need to focus and have to stay on the wicket to give 100 per cent.

“Both Malik and Hafeez are good experienced players and on their day they are match-winners and I believe every player of our squad is a match winner and we have good confidence.

He added, “Our batting line-up is quite strong as seven to eight batters have the potential to play big innings.”

It may be mentioned here that except for Babar (ranked second in T20 rankings) and Rizwan (seventh) no Pakistan players — batter, bowler and all-rounder — are included in the top ten of the current ICC T20 player rankings.

“With experienced bowlers like Shaheen Shah Afridi (ranked 23rd), Hasan Ali (66th) and Haris Rauf (51st) in the squad, we have a good pace attack while Imad Wasim (42nd) as a spinning all-rounder is also effective and we are quite capable of bowling out India.”

Shadab Khan, another spinner and vice-captain, holds a poor 44th spot while slow left-arm orthodox spinner Mohammad Nawaz is at 69th place.

Babar reckoned that the inclusion of former South Africa Test cricketer Vernon Philander as the Pakistan team’s bowling consultant helped the bowlers to learn from his experience.

Published in Dawn, October 14th, 2021

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