PALLEKELE: India’s Virat Kohli (L) shares a light moment with Pakistan’s Shaheen Shah Afridi (C) and Shadab Khan on the sidelines of a practice session at the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium on Friday.—AFP
PALLEKELE: India’s Virat Kohli (L) shares a light moment with Pakistan’s Shaheen Shah Afridi (C) and Shadab Khan on the sidelines of a practice session at the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium on Friday.—AFP

PALLEKELE: Pakistan captain Babar Azam on Friday played down the talks of pressure on his side and said they were banking on their experience in Sri Lankan conditions to do well against India in their Asia Cup match.

Pakistan had played a two-match Test series in Sri Lanka in July and then several players, including Babar, stayed back for the Lanka Premier League.

After the LPL, Pakistan took on Afghanistan in a three-match ODI series, which they won 3-0, and Babar said the whole trip would stand the side in good stead.

“We have been here since July,” said Babar during the pre-match press-conference for Saturday’s blockbuster.

“We have played Test matches, some league matches and then the ODIs. We are hoping that this will help us to do well against India.”

Pakistan, who recently rose to the top of world ODI team rankings, crushed Asia Cup debutants Nepal in the opener in Multan and are keeping the same playing XI for the India clash.

India have dominated the limited-overs rivalry in the past decade but Pakistan have got a few T20 victories in the last two years.

“We are not focusing on the past, but looking to do good in the upcoming matches,” said Babar, who remains fresh from his match-winning 151 against Nepal. “We will try to give our best and carry forward the momentum [from the first win].”

Both Babar and his Indian counterpart Rohit Sharma played down the hype around Saturday’s match and said they were just concentrating on the game and not on outside noises.

“There is no extra pressure,” said Babar. “Yes, the India-Pakistan match is always one of high intensity, but we have experienced players and we just need to concentrate on our strengths and do well.”

Sharma said India’s focus is on using the tournament to fine-tune their preparations for the home World Cup later this year.

The arch-rivals, who play each other only in multi-team events thanks to their soured political relations, could face each other up to three times in two weeks during the course of the tournament, including in the Sept. 17 final, and Sharma appeared determined not to get carried away by emotion.

“Rivalry is there for people to talk about. For us, we don’t want to look into all those things,” the opener deadpanned in the pre-match press conference.

“What we, as Team India, want to focus on is we have an opposition to play tomorrow, how we can perform [well]… rather than looking at all sorts of other things, which eventually is not going to help you.

“What is going to help us is — keep doing the right things on the pitch and make the right decisions that take us forward as a team.”

Sharma said his team’s experienced batsmen were unfazed by the threat of Pakistan’s fast bowlers. Pakistan boast of one of the world’s best pace attacks including Shaheen Shah Afridi, Naseem Shah and Haris Rauf.

The captain praised the Pakistan quicks but said his team was ready for the challenge.

“We don’t have Shaheen, Naseem and Haris in the nets,” Sharma joked. “So we practise with the bowlers that we have. But these three are quality bowlers and have performed well in the last few years.

“Pakistan have always had quality bowlers,” he added. “Their strength, where they bowl and not bowl, we have seen all that. We will use our years of experience to play against them, as simple as that.

“Pakistan have performed well since the past few years including the T20 World Cup or the 50-over format. It will be a good challenge for us to play against such a team and perform. We have prepared well and will execute what we have worked on.”

India have a strong batting unit that includes Sharma, Virat Kohli, Shubman Gill, Shreyas Iyer and Hardik Pandya.

And Babar said a pep talk by India’s cricket superstar Virat Kohli at the start of his career helped him a lot.

Both Babar, who remains top of the ODI batting chart, and Kohli have praised each other on various occasions despite the bitter rivalry between the two nations.

Asked about comparisons between the two batsmen, the 28-year-old Babar said: “I can’t comment on the debate. Let’s leave that to [the fans].

“There should be mutual respect. He is older than me and I respect him. I have learned a lot from him,” he said.

“I have said earlier that when I started (international cricket) I spoke to him and it helped me a lot.”

Babar did not reveal the details of the chat.

Kohli, 34, was seen mingling with the Pakistan players and hugged pace bowler Haris as the teams trained under the lights on the eve of the big group clash.

Rain threat looms large over the hotly-anticipated clash, with weather agencies predicting moderate-to-heavy showers in Kandy at the weekend.


PAKISTAN: Babar Azam (captain), Shadab Khan, Mohammad Rizwan (wicket-keeper), Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Salman Ali Agha, Iftikhar Ahmed, Mohammad Nawaz, Haris Rauf, Naseem Shah, Shaheen Shah Afridi

INDIA (from): Rohit Sharma (captain), Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, Ishan Kishan (wicket-keeper), Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Shardul Thakur, Mohammed Shami, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Siraj, Jasprit Bumrah.

Published in Dawn, September 2nd, 2023



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