A special set of games: Hafeez

Keen to win Indian hearts , says skipper

A special set of games: Hafeez

Diplomacy and a sense of camaraderie marked the two media conferences held by the Pakistani team ahead of their Tuesday’s Twenty20 International at the highly fortified M Chinnaswamy Stadium.

“We have come here not only to play cricket but also to win your hearts,” proclaimed visiting team manager Naveed Akram Cheema even as the T20 skipper Mohammad Hafeez ducked a controversial question.

This is the first bilateral series between the two traditional rivals since Pakistan’s last visit in 2007.

India were suppose to travel to Pakistan for a return series but the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, believed to have been plotted in Pakistan, forced the BCCI to cancel its bilateral engagements with the arch-rivals.

Given the volatile relationship between the two nations, authorities are leaving no stone unturned in ensuring a trouble-free match.

While hundreds of policemen have virtually taken over the stadium -- accreditated media peronnel were allowed only a 45-minute window to watch Pakistan go through their practice session due to security reasons on Sunday -- the Pakistani cricketers are heavily guarded which at times might be overbearing but Hafeez played it down. “I think we all love to come to India,” he noted “Everytime we come here the love and affection from the people of India is always great and this will remain. We have no issues with the security and we are here to play good cricket and enjoy ourselves.”

Squeezed in as it is amidst a gruelling international schedule, for many in India this series is a futile exercise that will render the tired cricketers even more jaded.

The 18-day gap before the commencement of the ODI series (January 11) against England, who have flown back home for the Christmas break, would have provided ample time for the Indians to start afresh but they are saddled with another assignment.

Nonetheless, the short series -- two T20s and three ODIs -- has generated a lot of interest among the public on either side of the border that is evident from the clamour for tickets for the matches.

While Pakistan would have loved a full-fledged series, including Tests, the neighbours look at it as a step in that direction.  

“Yes we know that it is a short tour and there is only T20s and one-dayers but it is a fresh journey. It’s a start and I think the next time it will also include Test matches between the two teams,” hoped Hafeez.

Coach Dav Whatmore brushed aside talks of the irrelevance of such a series. “It is viewed with great interest in Pakistan and that is nothing new,” he pointed out.

“I am sure the Indians are looking forward to these matches and as for the timing (between England matches) that is nothing new, we also have managed these matches between other commitments and that’s the way it is, we are happy to be here and I am sure they are also happy to have us here,” he offered.

Though not unfamiliar to either the sub-continental teams or the conditons here, Whatmore sounded excited about his involvement in an Indo-Pak series.

“Well this is a special set of games for us,” he remarked. “This is my first experience of a Pakistan-India series, a five-game series. We have played India of course in ICC events but this is my first time (in a bilateral series). I am looking forward to it personally.”

For someone like Umar Amin, the young batsman who is visiting India for the first time, playing in India is a crucial step in developing as a cricketer.

“Indian tours are important to Pakistani players and vice versa. The captain and team management have given me a lot of confidence and I am looking forward to the series.”
Left-arm paceman Sohail Tanvir summed it up better when he said the series was a chance for someone to become a star.
“India-Pak series are always pressure games,” he said. “It’s more than cricket. We have very talented youngsters and hopefully they will deliver. We know that whoever performs in an India-Pak series becomes a star.”
DH News Service

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