Afridi: Let’s keep politics out of cricket

The Pakistani team landed here last night after getting government clearance to travel, a decision that was delayed by several days over security concerns.

Pakistan skipper Shahid Afridi.   -  AP

Shahid Afridi walks in for a training session ahead at Eden Gardens, Kolkata,   -  AP

Pakistan cricketers and support staff pray prior to their training session at Eden Gardens.   -  AP

Sounding more like a statesman, Pakistan captain >Shahid Afridi, insisted on the traditional bonding that has always existed among the people of his country and India, adding that politics cannot supersede the goodwill and camaraderie fostered by cricket.

Mein samajhta hoon cricket ko siasat se dur rakhna chahiye (I feel cricket should be kept away from politics),” Afridi said in Urdu while highlighting the cordial relations that cricket has engenered between the two nations over the years.

“Cricket is something that has brought the people together and personally I have always received lot of warmth and affection whenever I have played in India. People love cricket here and it is the same in Pakistan. The love we have received here in India is sometimes more that what we get in Pakistan… We have to follow whatever decision our Government takes but I feel it is better that we keep cricket away from the intricacies of politics,” the Pakistan captain said on Sunday in his first news conference after arrival. > Read: Pakistan team arrives in Kolkata

Getting back to cricket, Afridi said his team has been struggling for form recently and hoped the players will rise up to the occasion when playing in a big stage like the ICC World T20.

“I feel we are not playing according to the team plans. The recent Asia Cup experience has given us a lesson on that,” Afridi insisted. “But I do not think we should be living in the past. Once we start playing according to the team plan we will do well,” he added.

When reminded that Pakistan has never beaten India in the World Cup, Afridi said that he would keep that negative factor away.

“That brings negativity and we would like to keep it away. India is playing very good cricket but we gave them a tough time when they chased a small target of 85 (in Asia Cup round-robin league). But it was Virat (Kohli) and Yuvi (Yuvraj Singh) who took the game away,” Afridi said. > Read: Malik - There are advantages in being an underdog

To another question on whether it will be Pakistan bowling against Indian batting when the two teams square up here at the Eden Gardens on March 19, Afridi said it has always been like that.

“It has remained that way for the last 60 years,” Afridi remarked. “We have very good memories here (Eden Gardens). We will be playing two matches here (against a qualifier on March 16 before meeting India) and so we are confident,” Afridi said appreciating the fact that Pakistan has never lost a match against India in Eden Gardens.

Drawing from that favourable record his team has enjoyed so long Afridi said he would look to start the tournament with a win when taking on a qualifier, which in all likelihood will be Bangladesh unless there is a big upset, in its first outing here on Wednesday.

“The first game is always very important. You try to take the rhythm ahead from the first match and we are looking for that. The pitch and conditions suit us well and we are confident about both our matches here,” Afridi said.

Afridi made an interesting remark when he was reminded about Indian batsman Rohit Sharma saying there was no logic behind the hype around the key Pakistani pacer >Mohammad Amir.

“That may be his (Rohit’s) opinion. But to me Amir is the best bowler. The way he is performing now and the way he has done in the past, Amir is among the best fast bowlers in the world,” Afridi reasserted the belief in the Pakistan team about Amir’s ability.

“We have a great fast bowling line-up. If our batsmen put enough scores on board I do not think it will be difficult for us to beat any opposition,” the Pakistan captain complimented the other pacers in the team like Mohammad Irfan, Whab Riaz, Mohammad Sami and Anwar Ali.

Coming to his own form and the criticism about Pakistan’s batting, Afridi said, “If you play for 20 years, you will see ups and downs. I have performed and answered my critics.”

Coming to his role as a captain, Afridi said he may go up the batting order to help the team when necessary.

“As a captain I have given a lot of chance to the players. In a big event like this the senior players take the pressure, be it myself, Shoaib Malik or Mohammed Hafeez. I will also look to contribute up the order in the batting if required,” he said.