Afridi brushes off India security concerns

KOLKATA – Pakistan skipper Shahid Afridi on Sunday brushed off concerns over security for his team at the World T20, saying he was looking forward to playing in front of India’s raucous crowds.
The 36-year-old said his team had always been “physically and mentally” prepared for the tournament despite weeks of uncertainty over whether they would be allowed to travel to arch rivals India, hosts of the World T20.
Pakistan only announced on Friday it was sending the national team after receiving assurances from India following negotiations with its neighbour over security arrangements.
“We are cricketers and not politicians,” Afridi told a press conference in Kolkata.
“We have always enjoyed playing in India and have been loved by Indians crowds more than crowds back home in Pakistan. Cricket has always brought people together and I think politics should be kept away from cricket.”
In his first comments since arriving with the team on Saturday night, Afridi said they were confident of success in their first outing against an unknown qualifier on Wednesday and the much-anticipated showdown against India on Saturday.
India switched the venue for the March 19 showdown from the northern hill station of Dharamsala to Kolkata after Pakistan’s concerns over threats from Hindu extremists and warnings of street protests.
Diplomatic tensions between the two countries have meant that the two teams have not played any bilateral series for more than three years, and their rivalry is restricted to multi-national tournaments such as the World T20.
Afridi said he expected a strong performance from Pakistani pacer Mohammad Aamir, who is returning from a five-year spot-fixing ban. “Aamir is a top international bowler and he has given great performances recently,” he said.
Despite being confident of his team’s chances, Afridi said India were playing “very good cricket” at the moment and would be tough to beat in front of their home crowds. He singled out “great performances” from Virat Kohli and Yuvraj Singh during Pakistan’s loss to their archrivals at the recent Asia Cup in Dhaka.
It has traditionally been a battle between India’s batting and Pakistan’s bowling whenever the arch-rivals have met on a cricket field and Afridi reckons the trend will continue in their contest on Saturday.
Afridi had no doubts that the onus, as always, will be on the Pakistani bowlers to trump an Indian lineup teeming with match-winners. “I think this has been the case over the last 60 years,” the all-rounder told reporters in Kolkata.
“Our bowling attack is pretty good. You have Mohammad Aamir and (Mohammad) Irfan. (Mohammad) Sami is also back and then there is Wahab Riaz. The fast bowling attack overall is very strong. If our batsmen, according to team plans, can give us a defendable total, I’m confident (the bowlers can clinch it).”
“We also have two quality spinners in Imad Wasim and M Nawaz. If you look at the entire bowling unit, I’m very confident (of doing well),” said Afridi, who tops the wicket-takers’ list in the shortest format with 93 scalps.
The leg-spinner was also enthused by Pakistan’s record at Eden Gardens, where they have prevailed in all four matches against India.
“We have good memories of the ground,” Afridi said. “We have played well at this ground, we know the conditions and the pitch suits us as well.” Agencies