The underdogs Pakistan have taken the cricket world by a storm after they thumped title contenders England in their semi-final match, to set up a clash against arch-rivals India. Ahead of the summit clash, former Pakistan all-rounder Shahid Afridi, who has featured in five Champions Trophy editions, feels the final has given Sarfraz Ahmed a golden opportunity of leaving a lasting legacy as Pakistan eye for their maiden Champions Trophy title.
“I want to say that the final has given Sarfraz a God-given the opportunity of leaving a lasting legacy. The feisty wicket-keeper batsman is still learning the art of captaincy, yet has grown in stature as a leader in every game this tournament. My advice to Sarfraz for the final is simple – take all decisions wholeheartedly and without any fear whatsoever. He needs to back his own abilities to the hilt since a confused or timid approach can hurt the team and dampen the chances of success,” Afridi wrote in his column for ICC.
Afridi, who made his ODI debut against Kenya in 1996 went on to play 398 ODIS for Pakistan, believes Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez need to step up and take the responsibility in Pakistan’s one of the most crucial match.
“Pakistan’s seniors Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez need to come to the party for the big game, both these players have contributed in many wins and Sunday is the time for them to deliver once again on the biggest stage of all,” Afridi added.
Pakistan have relied on their bowling in the tournament and will possess a threat to India’s quest of defending their title, which they won in 2013. However, in their last two matches, Fakhar Zaman and Azhar Ali have provided solid starts to Pakistan. And the 37-year old batsman feels Fakhar-Azhar partnership can give them the required momentum in the final.
“I am heartened by Pakistan’s opening partnership of Fakhar Zaman and Azhar Ali. The two have done a fantastic job for the team at the start of the innings and one more partnership of substance can give the side the required momentum for a possible victory. Leading up to the tournament, Azhar’s presence in the eleven was questioned by many, yet he has once again displayed that he is a strong character who makes a genuine effort to adapt to different situations in a match.”
Shahid admits that Pakistan would have to target taking wickets with the new ball since strikes at the top of the innings are likely to be crucial for the game’s outcome.
“The biggest challenge for Pakistan I believe is combatting the Indian batting line-up. Virat Kohli’s team has already proved its credentials as the best batting unit in the tournament. Its top-order is in great nick and it has a powerful trio of MS Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh and Hardik Pandya in the middle-order,” he added
Pakistan has defied all expectations, so in a way, that should ease the burden on the players. The management needs to convey to the team that they should enjoy the occasion and free their minds from negative thoughts or emotions.
Speaking on India’s stance on the bilateral series between the two nations, Afridi hopes that the two cricketing nations will sooner come together and play some cricket together.
“I would also want the cricketing world and the ICC to keep a close eye on the significance of an Indo-Pak cricket match of this magnitude and what it means to the fans of the game all around. I really hope that we see the resumption of bilateral cricket between the two countries and would request the Indian cricket board and the Indian government to soften their stance,” he concluded.
Pakistan last toured India in 2012 where they trounced the Men in Blue 2-1 in a three-match ODI series.