Pakistan’s interim head coach warned that Afghanistan would be dangerous opponents because of their “fearless” approach
Pakistan began their campaign with a 10-wicket win that ended India’s stranglehold over their arch-rivals in World Cups – they had won each of the five previous T20 World Cup meetings between the sides as well as the seven ODI World Cup meetings. That resounding win was followed by a five-wicket victory over New Zealand that has put Pakistan firmly on top of the Group 2 table, and left them favourites to reach the semi-finals. They next face Afghanistan on Friday, followed by matches against Associate teams Namibia and Scotland.
“When you come with a mindset to become a world champion then you don’t think about the opponent,” Saqlain said in a virtual press conference. “You rather think whoever comes in, you do what you have to do and want to do. So we are thinking on the same lines day in and day out that whoever is against us in the next stage we will accept it. If you want to become a world champion then you have to live up to the requirements — being tough, being well-prepared, and playing cricket different from the others, and it shows that you are a genuine World Cup winner. If you want to be a world champion then you should be thoroughly [tested] so that the world actually recognises you.
“If India makes it to the final with us, it would be a great thing because I feel — and this is not because we became big-headed after beating them — but because they are a strong team, everyone considers them a favourite. England and Australia always play tough cricket too. What we have in hand is our process, how we plan, our commitment, how we fight and bounce back and things we can control so we don’t focus on results and the opponent. If India comes in the final, then it would be very good for the ICC, fans around the world and for world cricket — everyone will enjoy it. They are our neighbouring country and playing one more match would only improve our relations.”
Looking ahead to the game, Saqlain talked up Afghanistan not just for their spin attack but also their fearless batting. “I’ve been hearing about them, that they are actually a key player for Afghanistan,” he said of the spinners. “They’ve been doing really well in different leagues and they are quite confident to do their business on their day. They are very good but obviously we should play and we should execute our plan with the clarity of the mind.
“It’s a strong unit. We can’t really say that it’s very easy and you will roll over them. It’s not like that. They have a wonderful bowling attack, especially the spinners. When they bat, they just play, the way they feel it, what’s in their heart, what they think. They just go and execute the plan. They just play a sort of fearless cricket and I think that kind of team can be dangerous.
“But you play for your pride and you don’t think that this is a small team and this is a big team. Otherwise your mind will start thinking in that way. So in the World Cup, it’s a mega win. You play all the teams with the same intensity, with the same attitude, with the same sort of mindset and you execute your plan the way you execute the plan against the bigger-name team.”
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo’s Pakistan correspondent