What makes India vs Pakistan such an attraction?
This is the world’s greatest sporting rivalry. The intensity is unrivalled. Everyone involved in the game knows it is a platform to be a superhero. If you don’t perform in any other game but you play a game-changing hand in this one game, you know that your job is done.Fans will celebrate you for days and weeks. This is a very special match between two very special teams. As I have said many times, it’s not for the faint-hearted. If you are brave enough, it is your platform. If you aren’t, this match is not for you.
I always think back to Eden Gardens in 1999. When I bowled Sachin Tendulkar first ball, it was a moment that changed my career. All of a sudden it was like ‘who is this man?’. That one ball made Shoaib Akhtar a name. Such is the aura of this contest.
India and Pakistan have not played a single game in almost a year. But they are going to play multiple matches in the next two months, in the Asia Cup and the World Cup. Who do you think has the upper hand?
The one thing that can decide these matches is how much pressure you and your media will put on the Indian players. The Indian media is relentless. They will not give Pakistan a chance and that makes things easy for Pakistan. From day one you will call the Indian team the favourites and say that nothing but a win will be enough. Imagine the kind of pressure you are putting on the team.Comments like ‘India are favourites to win the World Cup’ builds humungous pressure on Rohit Sharma. Frankly, all the pressure is on India, and Pakistan have nothing to lose. All our boys need to do is play their hearts out to beat India. That’s what I will be telling the boys that it is the Indians who are under pressure.So, they should just enjoy and run in and play their hearts out.
Virat Kohli’s wicket will again be the biggest priority for Pakistan?
While on Kohli, I don’t think he should play more 50-over matches after this World Cup. He will have nothing to prove. He has done brilliantly over the years and with another World Cup four years away, there is nothing more left for him in the format.
Also, if you see him in T20s, it takes a lot out of him. I think he should play for at least six more years and break the 100 hundreds record of Sachin Tendulkar. Kohli has it in him to break the record. He should focus on Test cricket after this World Cup and break this record.
I also think that once his captaincy was taken away, it liberated him. It was good for him as a batter because the pressure of captaincy cripples you.
What’s your take on Rohit Sharma’s captaincy?
As a batter Rohit is perhaps more talented than Kohli also. He is a classical batsman and the kind of shots he plays, it is just mindblowing. But with captaincy, is he being able to do that? Let him prove me and all of us wrong for that’s what all of India will want him to do in this World Cup. He will have to overcome the pressures of captaincy to be able to bat the way he can. And it isn’t going to be easy with all the hype around.
What would you like to say to the players ahead of the crucial two months?
This World Cup could well be the most amazing ODI tournament we’ve seen. I don’t know what is in store for the 50-over format after this. So, this is a massive occasion for the sport itself. And that’s why my advice to the Pakistan boys is that you don’t know if you will ever play in India again. While I believe India will come to Pakistan in 2025, this is an occasion the Pakistan players should cherish. Also, when you’ve a match like this and your 13-14-year-old aspiring cricketers watch the likes of (Jasprit) Bumrah, Kohli, Rohit, Babar (Azam) or Shaheen (Shah Afridi), that’s when you breed the next generation of cricketing talent.
The youngsters see their heroes and then aspire to be like them. That’s the big takeaway, the real legacy.
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