Kolkata: Indian fans and the country’s security environment got a rousing endorsement from the Pakistan cricketers on March 13, with visiting skipper Shahid Afridi acknowledging that his boys get more love from sports buffs here than from those back home.
Another seasoned Pakistani campaigner Shoaib Malik, married to Indian tennis star Sania Mirza, gave the thumbs up to the security provided to the team and asserted that he never faced any security issue during his frequent trips to India.
In a series of media interactions on March 13, a day after setting foot on Indian soil to take part in the World Twenty20 tournament, the Pakistan cricketers played the role of goodwill ambassadors to perfection, stressing on the cultural similarities between the two neighbours and underscoring the importance of cricket in bringing the two nations closer.
“We get lot of love from fans here, even more than the love we get from fans in Pakistan,” Afridi told media persons at the Eden Gardens ground.
The 36-year-old dashing all-rounder recalled that he has been coming to India for two decades during his long career.
“Cricket is a sport which has brought the two countries together. Can there be anything better than politics and cricket to bring the two countries together?” he said.
However, Afridi disagreed with a media person that by not opting out of the tournament despite being given a choice by the authorities in Islamabad to travel or not to travel to India, the cricketers have disagreed with the Pakistan government’s apprehensions about their security in India.
“It is not a question of disagreement. Whatever decision the government takes, we back it. We are not politicians,” he said.
Pakistan were earlier scheduled to arrive here on Tuesday but that got delayed as the country’s government wasn’t happy with the security arrangements in India. Finally after an assurance from Home Minister Rajnath Singh, the team finally arrived here on Saturday evening.
But Afridi said the delay did not hamper their preparations as they were already training in Lahore.
“We were mentally and physically ready that definitely we will go.”
Afridi turned a tad sentimental as he profusely praised the Eden Gardens, particularly its boisterous crowd, where Pakistan would be playing a warm-up game as also two Super Ten group B fixtures including the high-voltage clash against India on March 19.
“Talking about the fans, my cricket is about to end. The sort of love I have got here I will remember all through my life. People here really love cricket and the cricketers. They love good performances.”
Pakistan have a clean slate at Eden in the limited over format, winning each of the six games they have played at the hallowed venue. And the statistics has made Afridi upbeat about his side’s prospects in the first two games.
“Good that we are playing our first two games here. We have always enjoyed playing on this ground. This ground suits us,” said Afridi, who has played 398 One-Day Internationals (ODIs), 94 T20Is and 27 Tests.
Malik thanked the Indian government for the security arranged for the team.
Firstly, I would like to thank the Indian government. The security is very good.”
“My wife is from India and I come to India a lot. I have never faced any security issue,” the 34-year-old acknowledged.
Malik said he has always got lot of love from the Indian people and the media.
“I don’t really see any difference between Pakistani people and the Indians. We eat the same food, we speak the same language. I am very happy to be in India. I’m honoured to be in India.”
Coming to matters cricket, Afridi said his team – particularly the batsmen – needed to play according to the team plan, and admitted that was not the case in Bangladesh where Pakistan fared poorly in the recent Asia Cup.
However, he made it clear that the side would not be weighed down by the Bangladesh debacle, and instead approach the coming engagements with a positive frame of mind.
Reminded that Pakistan have never won a game against India in World Cups, be it in the 50-over format or Twenty20, Afridi said: “This (Pakistani record vis-a-vis India) is negative. However, negatives comes with positives… I’ve always taken things positively.”
At the same time, the Pakistan players gave ample evidence of their combative side.
Afridi dimissed Indian batsman Rohit Sharma’s argument that there was nothing to “go gaga” over Pakistan speedster Mohammed Amir, who has been in fine form since returning to international cricket after serving a five-year ban for spot fixing.
“For me, Mohammad Amir is the best… his name is there among the top international bowlers.”
Malik virtually threw a challenge to those giving his team the underdogs tag, saying Pakistan were rated as underdogs before both the 1992 World Cup and the 2009 World Twenty20 and ended up winning both.
Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni got glowing tributes from Pakistan wicketkeeper-batsman Sarfraz Ahmed, who called him his idol, and said he wanted to be a “finisher” like the Ranchi boy. (Agencies)