ICC World Cup 2023: Enter Pakistan as fever builds up in India
Skipper and star batter Babar Azam on first visit to the country along with most members of the current side
There is never a dull moment with the Pakistan cricket team, whether on or off the field. As Babar Azam & Co. are due to set foot on Indian soil a good seven years after the 2016 World T20, the backdrop is no different.
If the late arrival of players’ visas forced them to cancel the team’s two-day bonding camp in Dubai en route to Hyderabad, there is simmering discontent among the contracted players for reported non-payment of salaries for four months. Add to these the reports of a dressing room flare-up between Babar and a few players (read Shaheen Afridi) after failing to make the Asia Cup final in Colombo earlier this month.
Much to the credit of Babar, whose calmness is a far cry from the loose cannon Shahid Afridi — captain during Pakistan’s last two visits to India (World Cup 2011 and World T20 2016) — he handled the salvos from Pakistan media well during his pre-departure press conference in Lahore on Tuesday, 26 September.
Downplaying the visa issue, Babar also sought to diffuse the players’ contract dispute as he said: ‘’As far as the contracts are concerned, they are still being negotiated, but we are hopeful they will work out as the PCB always has our interests at heart.’’
What about the reported bad blood in the dressing room following the Asia Cup disappointment? ‘’There is no ill will in the dressing room. There are discussions after every loss but they get twisted into something else entirely. The entire team is like a family and there is love and respect there,’’ said the 28-year-old batter, who is among the game’s few premier batsmen across all formats.
Surely, Babar had done his homework right as he is in no mood to let any off-field row disrupt their campaign as they look to regain the trophy won under Imran Khan’s leadership in 1992. Once they land in the city of the Charminar, the green shirts are scheduled to play the first of their two warm-up games against New Zealand on Friday at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium, albeit behind closed doors.
"The warm-up match between New Zealand and Pakistan scheduled to take place in Hyderabad on 29th December will now take place behind closed doors as per the advice of the local security agencies,’’ BCCI posted on their social handle as late as 8.00 pm on Monday, 25 September. ‘’The match in Hyderabad coincides with festivals on the day and large gatherings are expected around the city. The spectators who bought tickets for the game will receive a full refund,’’ the update said.
However, an announcement as late as this, along with the earlier changes of as many as nine matches in the schedule, betrayed a degree of faulty planning by both ICC and BCCI. The marquee India-Pakistan clash, originally scheduled for 15 October in Ahmedabad, had to be brought forward by a day as it would clash with the Navratri festival. Pakistan will play the second warm-up match against Australia on 3 October before opening their campaign against qualifiers Netherlands on 6 October.
The absence of bilateral cricketing ties between India and Pakistan means only two players, Mohammad Nawaz and Agha Salman, have prior experience of playing in India in 2016. It will be Babar’s first trip too as he missed the chance to travel to India in 2016 due to an injury.
"Although we have not played in India before, we are not under too much pressure. We have done our research and heard the conditions are similar to other Asian countries,’’ Babar said.