Pakistan captain Mohammad Hafeez hopes Shahid Afridi will be fit in time for the World Twenty20 after the hard-hitting allrounder delayed his departure to Bangladesh.
Afridi played in the Asia Cup final on Saturday with painkillers after he hurt his hamstring with some powerful late hitting during two nail-biting victories against India and Bangladesh last week.
“As a captain I need a fit Afridi, and that’s why we have given him time to rehab,” Hafeez said on Wednesday.
Pakistan leaves for Dhaka on Thursday, and manager Zakir Khan said they hoped Afridi could join the team on Monday, meaning the allrounder will miss the warmup match against New Zealand.
Afridi’s fitness could be tested in the second warmup game against South Africa next Wednesday before the 2009 winners’ first group match against India two days later.
Afridi is the most capped Twenty20 international player with 70 matches, bagging 73 wickets with his legspin bowling and scoring 1,044 runs at an impressive strike rate of 143.01.
Hafeez said fitness was one of the key issues with the team because it has been playing international cricket nonstop for five months.
“When you play back-to-back matches, the fitness of individuals counts a lot,” Hafeez said. “Fitness is the problem of the Pakistan team, but it needs to be improved at the grassroots level.”
Pakistan has never won a match against India in an ICC tournament, including a loss in the inaugural World Twenty20 final in South Africa in 2007.
But the recent victory against India in the Asia Cup has raised the hopes of Hafeez, despite the fact India will be strengthened with the return of captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina, who all missed the Asia Cup.
“The India vs. Pakistan match is always a pressure match,” Hafeez said.
“As a player and as a captain I am very happy that our first match is against India, and from there hopefully we will get a good takeoff in the tournament.
“Wherever you play against them (India), you have pressure from the media and your nation, but we will try to have a good start and build a good momentum.”
The dip in the form of Umar Gul, the second highest wicket-taker in T20s with 74, and Junaid Khan, worries Hafeez after both fast bowlers combined for only six wickets during the Asia Cup.
“The performance of the fast bowlers will be the key for us because they have to play their roles with both the new and old ball,” Hafeez said.
“(Bowling coach) Mohammad Akram is working hard with both of them in the nets, but in the end it’s up to them to go out and perform.”
Fielding is another area of concern, as Pakistan dropped at least three catches in the Asia Cup final loss to Sri Lanka.
The Pakistan Cricket Board hired former test opener Shoaib Mohammad as the fielding coach before the Asia Cup, but Hafeez said it will take time to implement the coach’s techniques.
“He (Mohammad) has never worked as a fielding coach with any national team,” he said. “He is giving us some new ideas and we are trying to adopt those things, but it will take some time.”
Pakistan has recalled allrounder Shoaib Malik, wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal, left-arm fast bowler Sohail Tanvir and left-arm spinner Zulfiqar Babar in the four changes made from the team which played in the Asia Cup.
Australia, defending champion West Indies, and a qualifier are also in Pakistan’s group.
Pakistan is one of the most successful teams in the World T20 after winning the title in 2009 in England, reaching one other final, and two semifinals.
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