It is always a joy to play in India: Mohammad Hafeez

T20 skipper Mohammad Hafeez  acknowledges the magnitude of the contest but says his team always gets a good crowd response in India.

Updated: December 23, 2012 22:43 IST
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Bangalore: An India versus Pakistan encounter doesn't need any extra hype, and especially when it kick-starts the first bilateral series between the teams in five years.

Downplaying the pressure and hype while acknowledging the magnitude of the contest was what Mohammad Hafeez, Pakistan's Twenty20 captain, and Dav Whatmore, the Pakistan coach, strove for at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore on Sunday (December 23), which will host the first Twenty20 International on Tuesday.

"We all know the importance of these games because people of both the countries love their teams to win against each other," said Hafeez. "But we are here to play good and competitive cricket. I don't think winning or losing makes a difference to a good game of cricket."

Hafeez also stressed the fact that playing in India was an experience to cherish in itself, and the entire Pakistan contingent was looking forward to it.

"We always love to come here, there is a lot of joy in playing here," said Hafeez. "Whenever you come to India, there are expectations and it is a great opportunity for the youngsters to come here, feel the pressure, see the crowd and its response, and play well.

The series against Pakistan has been sandwiched into an already packed Indian home season. However, its timing and the fact that it comprises only two T20Is and three One-Day Internationals does not diminish its importance for Pakistan.

"It is viewed with great interest in Pakistan," said Whatmore. "I am sure the Indians are looking forward to it as well. As for the timing, that is nothing new. We also have managed these matches between other commitments and that's the way it is. We are happy to be here, and I am sure they are also happy to have us here."

A contest between India and Pakistan has always hinged largely on which team handles pressure and the nerves better on the day. Hafeez and Whatmore admitted as much.

"I will try my level best not to play with pressure, and I will convey the same message to the boys," said Hafeez, while Whatmore, who is no stranger to subcontinent teams and conditions, added that Pakistan had done well under pressure in the past.

"I have worked with boys in India and Bangladesh as well, and the principle is very much the same," said Whatmore. "We (Pakistan) have done that in the past (performing under pressure). We just have to put our best foot forward and enjoy the experience."

One particular player in the Pakistan T20I side will be under particular scrutiny. Shahid Afridi, who has destroyed Indian bowling attacks often in the past, has not been included in the ODI side, after a lean run with the bat in recent times. Afridi might still be asked to stay on for the ODIs, with Misbah-ul-Haq, the ODI captain, saying his form in practice matches before the tour was encouraging - a sentiment endorsed by Hafeez.

"There is no doubt really that he is a great player," said Hafeez. "He is taking his omission (from the ODI squad) positively, as a challenge. In the last two practice games in Pakistan, he came up with some good performances. He is a tough guy and a match-winner for us, as a bowler and batsman. He is getting his confidence back, and once he performs well, he can always come back in the ODIs."

Neither of Hafeez, Whatmore or Naveed Akram Cheema, the team manager, wanted to be drawn into anything but the cricketing aspects of the tour, with the politics of it left behind.

Cheema stressed that the tour would be played in the "spirit of the game", in spite of the needle in the contest, and promised Pakistan would win more than just matches.

"We are focussed on the cricket and that's what we are here for," he said. "At the same time, we have not only come here to play cricket, but also to win your hearts."

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