I really hope that we see a positive game, and yes, for now I am firmly donning my Pakistani hat and wishing for a result in favour of my team, writes the former Pakistani captain.

We are now just a month away from the biggest cricket match of the year – the mouth-watering India-Pakistan face-off in the ICC Champions Trophy at Edgbaston. Like millions of fans around the world, I am also excited about the game and look forward to a highly entertaining match between the two traditional rivals, who have a rich cricketing history between them.

The Champions Trophy is the only ICC event where Pakistan have had successes against India. We won the 2004 match at Edgbaston and then the 2009 match at Centurion. I hope the Men in Green deliver a rousing performance at Edgbaston to improve their record against India in global events.

Contrary to popular belief, India and Pakistan players get along very well. Of course, there are exceptions like Gautam Gambhir, who dare I say isn’t the friendliest. We are unlikely to be found together at a coffee shop anytime soon. We had a heated exchange on the field some years ago and it made headlines all over the world. While I have moved on in life as I feel these things are part and parcel of the game, Gautam for some reason can’t get over it. Good luck to him!

While Gautam is clearly an exception, I have enjoyed excellent relationships with Yuvraj Singh, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh. The three are one of my best mates and we have some wonderful memories together from the times when both the sides used to play and tour each other on a regular basis.

In the early days of our careers, we used to hang out together quite a lot and also spend time at each other’s homes. Now, all of us are married and, as such, responsibilities and the priority lists have changed. But whenever we catch-up, we meet with warmth and love, and remember our good times together.

I recall during one of India’s tours to Pakistan, I invited the entire India team to my Karachi house. We prepared special Pathan-style rich food, full of lamb and mutton dishes. When the food was served, there was a complete silence in the room and my Indian friends were looking at each other. At that point, I realised that my honourable and respectable guests don’t eat that type of food!

Quite a few of them were vegetarians, and so, we had to urgently replace the food with Daal (lentils) and vegetables dishes. It was quite embarrassing for me to not know about the dietary requirements of the guests since our similarity of culture made me take many things for granted. That was a funny memory of my ‘hospitality’ for the Indian team.

Another player I admire and respect from the present lot is Virat Kohli. He has a fantastic cricket bat in hand and an even a better heart in his supremely fit body. I will always remember him for the gesture he showed when he gave me an India cricket team signed shirt following our match in Kolkata in the ICC World Twenty20 2016. This shirt sits prominently in my collection and will always remind me of not only my matches and visits to India, but my excellent relationships with most, if not all India cricketers.

Unfortunately, we don’t meet each other that often now due to the prevailing relations between the two countries. But I miss the good times with my Indian cricket friends and I am sure they feel likewise. Hopefully, the situation will improve soon so that the old friends can reunite to relive old memories.

I consider myself extremely privileged and lucky to have played my international cricket in the era when Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Saurav Ganguly, VVS Laxman, Anil Kumble, MS Dhoni, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Yuvraj Singh, etc were on one side and the likes of Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Yousuf, Shoaib Akhtar, Moin Khan, Saeed Anwa and, Saqlain Mushtaq were on the other side. I don’t think it can get any better than this.

India and Pakistan have featured in some of the most iconic, thrilling and nail-biting matches. I have been very fortunate to play a few good innings against India, but the ODI century in Kanpur in 2005 stands out. The innings helped us take a lead in the six-match series which we eventually won 4-2 after we had started poorly, losing the first two games.

In the lead up to the Kanpur game, Yuvi, Bhajji and Zaheer came over to my hotel room. They were all relaxed and kept teasing me by saying that they will win the series with ease. I was at my wit’s end as they were all bullying me and it eventually made me a little angry. I then prayed to the Almighty Allah for our success so that we could restore our pride.

I think 12 years down the line, I should thank them for inspiring and motivating me to play the Kanpur knock, one of my favourite international innings.

On the upcoming match in Edgbaston, I really hope that we see a classic Indo-Pak match. India has the strength as well as the psychological advantage based on its recent performances against us. India is a batting powerhouse brimming with talent, which is well supported by an aggressive and attacking bowling line-up.

But I feel that Pakistan has a formidable bowling line-up that can challenge the Indian batting, especially in the English conditions. As always, the match would be a game of nerves and both teams would have to maintain their composure throughout.

The match is being played on a neutral venue, which might actually calm the nerves of the players a tad. All in all I really hope that we see a positive game, and yes, for now I am firmly donning my Pakistani hat and wishing for a result in favour of my team.

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