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HomeSportsCricketAmbassador' Afridi upbeat ahead of India clash

Ambassador’ Afridi upbeat ahead of India clash


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PAKISTAN captain Shahid Afridi said he’d no problems with all the extra responsibility in the World Cup semi-final clash against India tomorrow.

Encounters between the Asian rivals represent cricket’s most passionate contests.

This one has been especially hyped after India Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh used it as a springboard for diplomatic talks by inviting Pakistan counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani to the match.

Political pressure upon the Pakistan team was increased yet further when Interior Minister Rehman Malik warned the side not to ‘fix’ the match.

This is a particularly sensitive point for the Pakistan side, who saw fast bowlers Mohammad Aamer and Mohammad Asif, as well as former Test captain Salman Butt, banned ahead of this World Cup for their roles in last year’s ‘spot-fixing’ betting scandal in England.

Afridi, who said he’d spoken to both Malik and Gilani heading into this match, said today: “I think I am the cricketer first and then the diplomat. I am an ambassador for Pakistan, so I should know what to say.

“I think it’s a great sign for both countries and sports, especially cricket always brings these two countries together.”

He added: “I think the boys are doing a great job. We’ve been going through a very tough time for the last seven, eight months but we are playing as a unit.”

Pakistan have been forced to play all their matches away from home since the country was turned into a ‘no-go area’ for the world’s top teams after armed gunmen attacked the Sri Lanka team bus in Lahore in March 2009.

“It is very important, this World Cup matters a lot to us and we try to bring cricket back home,” Afridi explained.

And he insisted the pressure was all on India, who, like Pakistan, are bidding for a second World Cup title.

“We are not the most favourite team for this competition, India is the most favourite team and we have played above expectations. We are very confident and we are enjoying our cricket.”

Tomorrow’s match has been billed as a contest between India’s batsmen and Pakistan’s bowlers but Afridi said: “You can say that but I know my team is very balanced.

“We’ve got some good experienced players, with youngsters, and our bowlers are doing a great job.”

The 31-year-old Afridi was especially pleased by the temperament shown by some of his side’s younger players.

“A few of the players are playing really mature cricket especially the youngsters, (batsman) Umar Akmal and (off-spinner) Saeed Ajmal.”

Afridi has been leading from the front, but as a leg-spinning wicket-taker rather than as a dynamic batsman, which is how he made his name in international cricket.

He is the leading bowler at this World Cup with 21 wickets.

“In the last three or four years I have really focused on my bowling because in batting, I don’t know, sometimes I perform and sometimes I don’t,” said the captain.


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