The Chennai chapter of Pakistan’s campaign in the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023 begins on Monday when they play Afghanistan at MA Chidambaram Stadium. After Afghanistan, Pakistan will stay in the city to play South Africa on 27 October for their second and last match of the tournament here.
Pakistan, after four games, are fifth on the points table with two wins and as many losses. After following the tournament with remarkable wins over the Netherlands and Sri Lanka, which saw them make the record for the highest successful chase in the history of the tournament, Pakistan have had a few tough outings.
Pakistan are eager to leave Chennai 4-2 up and fast bowler Shaheen Afridi believes that learnings from the last two matches will help the side in the upcoming matches. “We are aware of the expectations from the team and we are eager to fulfil them,” he told PCB Digital ahead of the match against Afghanistan.
“A loss is a loss and we need to accept it. But, learning from it would be better for the team. These two matches were very important for us, but we are very much alive in the tournament. We are here to make history [by winning the World Cup].”
It will be Afghanistan’s second match on the trot here in Chennai. While the experience of playing New Zealand, albeit in a defeat, may help them, they are buoyed by a win over England.
Afghanistan, however, are yet to defeat Pakistan in One-Day Internationals. Does Shaheen expect the past record to have any say? “There is no room for complacency in a tournament like the World Cup as any team can beat anyone, something that we have seen so far. Afghanistan have been playing good cricket and they have recently defeated England. We will have to show up with the best skills against them. They have world-class spinners, but, thanks to Almighty, our batting unit has also been doing well.”
Chennai has a reputation for being a spin-friendly venue. So, what would be the role of Shaheen and his fellow pacers here? “There are many venues in India that favour spinners and Chennai is one such venue. As fast bowlers, our role is to make the most of the reverse swing on offer in the middle overs and in the latter stages of the game.”
Despite a solid opening partnership from centurions David Warner and Mitchell Marsh, Pakistan bowlers restricted Australia to 367 at Bengaluru, easily one of the highest-scoring venues. Shaheen bowled a tight spell upfront and returned to take five wickets to record his second five-wicket haul in as many iterations of the 50-over World Cup. The left-arm pacer finished with five for 54 from 10 overs in conditions tailor-made for batting.
“I was aware of the fact that it is a high-scoring venue and I was mentally prepared for it,” Shaheen said when asked about his bowling performance in the last match. “I tried different variations as you have to do to be successful on such pitches. So, bowling variations and pulling my length a little back helped me.
“It is very important to acclimatise as a bowler. It is not like that I have done something new, but I have gotten used to the conditions here. You do not get that much swing in India as you do in England, Australia or New Zealand. There is not much bounce in the pitches here either, because of which we get to see high-scoring games here. So, being good in the field becomes of utmost importance as a couple of good catches or run outs can boost your team.
“Bowling in partnerships is also crucial. I had not picked up wickets before, but now that I have gotten them, I will look to carry momentum in the next games and give such performances that win us games.”
Shaheen could have had his first wicket of the match in his first spell had Usama Mir not put down Warner at mid-on. Reflecting on the catch, he said, “Dropping a catch is part of game. I think what is important is the effort and how much energy you put in when you are fielding and how much you enjoy it.
“It was his first game, no doubt, but sometimes such crucial catches are important. You cannot blame anyone because of one dropped catch. This is a team game and we win or lose as a team.
“What is important is that everyone continues to contribute for the team.”