Pakistan’s T20 captain Shahid Afridi has played down the focus on the team’s security in India, saying he cherishes the support and appreciation of Indian fans. Team-mate Shoaib Malik also backed Afridi’s statement, saying the security in India is “very good”.
The players spoke to the media after arriving in Kolkata on Saturday, where they will play India on March 19. The game was scheduled to take place in Dharamsala, but was moved to Kolkata due to concerns over the security of the Pakistan team. A three-member delegation from the PCB visited Dharamsala and formally said ‘security is not assured’ at the venue. The controversy also delayed the departure of the men’s and women’s teams to India.
“I’ve not enjoyed playing anywhere as much as I have in India,” Afridi said. “I am in the last stage of my career and I can say that the love I have got in India is something that I will always remember. We have not got this much love even from Pakistan.
“There are cricket-loving people here, much like in Pakistan. Overall, I’ve enjoyed a lot playing in India in my cricketing career.”
Malik, who is married to Indian tennis player Sania Mirza, said he had never faced security issues on his previous visits to India.
“Firstly I would like to thank the Indian Government. The security is very good,” Malik said. “My wife is from India and I come to India a lot. I have never faced any security issue.
“I don’t really see any difference between Pakistani people and the Indians. We eat the same food, we speak the same language. I don’t really see any difference. I am very happy to be in India. I have always got a lot of love from people and from media.”
Malik went on to state that Pakistan could benefit from the underdog tag they carry going into the World T20. He said the team could draw inspiration from the 1992 World Cup and the 2009 World T20, which Pakistan won despite low expectations from the public.
“It’s good that we’re underdogs and that gives you a lot of confidence. At the same time, we are here to do well,” Malik said. “Let’s talk about 1992 World Cup first. People were not expecting us to do well and win it but we won that. Same thing happened in 2007 World T20 when we did well before losing to India in the final. In 2009, we were not that big as a team but still we won. The same is the case going into this edition.”
Pakistan, who are ranked No. 7 in the T20 rankings, have had a poor run of form in the format recently, with series losses against England and New Zealand. They lost crucial matches against Bangladesh and India in the recent Asia Cup and failed to make the final. Five of the side’s nine T20I victories in the past 12 months have come against Zimbabwe and UAE.
Moreover, the World T20 squad was also in flux. Pakistan were forced to make changes following injuries to Babar Azam and Rumman Raees, while Khurram Manzoor made way for Ahmed Shehzad after a disappointing run in the Asia Cup. Khalid Latif replaced Iftikhar Ahmed in the World T20 squad.
“We could not deliver as per the expectations in the Asia Cup,” Malik said. “It’s part of life, we are professionals. Whatever happened has happened. We are here to give our best. It is a new tournament. We will try to help each other out and will try what is best for us.”