Ahead of the high-profile ICC Champions Trophy Group B contest between India and Pakistan, off-spinner Harbhajan Singh feels the Men in Blue have the upper hand as the neighbours don’t have enough youngsters capable of handling pressure of the big games.
“I haven’t seen too many youngsters capable of handling pressure in the current Pakistani set-up,” Harbhajan wrote in a column for ICC.
More than the skills, India discard Harbhajan feels it will be all about the mental aspect of the game – handling pressure. “At the end of the day, an India-Pakistan game has got more to do with pressure than anything else. The team that handles the ‘P-factor’ better on the day is more likely to win.
“Over the years, India has learnt how to deal with pressure. And this isn’t just against Pakistan. In any case, the Pakistani team of the day is no match for its teams of the past. There was a time when Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Saqlain Mushtaq, Saeed Anwar, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Mohammad Yousuf used to play in the same team!”
Harbhajan, who is one of the few individuals to be part of the squad which won all three ICC tournaments – Champions Trophy, World T20, World Cup – picked Mohammad Amir and Shoaib Malik to be the key players for Pakistan.
“I quite like Sarfraz Ahmed, the wicketkeeper-batsman. Also, their batting isn’t anywhere close to what South Africa (AB de Villiers and Faf Du Plessis) and India (MS Dhoni, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma) can boast,” said Harbhajan.
“When it comes to the ‘danger-man’ in their squad, I think Shoaib Malik is one player who plays spin really well. Once he gets used to the conditions, he can take on any bowler, be it a spinner or a fast bowler.
“The other player to watch out for is skipper Sarfraz because he is very intelligent. In the bowling department, Pakistan has Mohammad Amir. India needs to play him carefully, especially when he’s armed with the new ball.”
Harbhajan added that Pakistan won’t pose much of a problem to India in their tournament opener on Sunday.
“At the international level, there is pressure before any game. I would say that there is now more pressure when we face South Africa and Australia or even England for that matter. These teams worry us more than Pakistan. There is always pressure. If there is no pressure, you will be over-confident. Having said that, an India-Pakistan game does get treated differently.”
Recalling the World Cup semi-final against the same opposition in Mohali in 2011, Harbhajan wrote,”I remember the India-Pakistan semi-final in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011. I didn’t sleep the night before the match because I was constantly thinking about what people would say and how they would react if we were to lose. I remember telling a few people to keep vigil outside my home so that the crowd doesn’t break anything should things not go our way. One does think about such things too.
“People expect a lot more from you when you play Pakistan. It seems like we’re going to war with them. This certainly gets to the players.”