The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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India certain to bring out the best in us
Shoaib and Razzaq can get Pakistan back in business
Fast Track / Wasim Akram

This is a moment that both countries and both teams have been waiting for, for three years — an India-Pakistan match. I have always enjoyed the pressure, the challenge and the atmosphere of an India-Pakistan game, and this one will be no different. There are some old on-pitch duels to resume, and a few new ones to look forward to.

There is no arguing that India has been more impressive than Pakistan in the tournament so far. However, there is also no question that whenever we play India, our performance goes up a few notches. There is no reason why that should not be the case tomorrow.

The key tussle will be between our bowlers and the top Indian batsmen. Getting Sachin Tendulkar out early will be priority No. 1, as he is the world’s top batsman at present, and his dismissal invariably has a huge impact on the Indians.

When the two teams played each other in a spate of games in 1999-2000, Abdul Razzaq dismissed the little maestro on three-four occasions. Razzaq was at his peak then, and is admittedly a little off-colour in this tournament. I know that he has always prided himself in being able to get Tendulkar out, and perhaps this challenge will see him coming back to the form he enjoyed in the last World Cup.

Virender Sehwag is the other player all the Pakistan bowlers are itching to get at. I enjoy watching him play, but have not bowled to him till now. We have been doing a fair bit of homework on him as well as on Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif and Dinesh Mongia, some of the other Indian batsmen who we have not played against. We’ve watched them, plotted and planned. It now remains to be seen whether we can put all those strategies into action successfully.

Since we last played each other, India has found two fine bowlers in Ashish Nehra and Zaheer Khan. They have proved that it’s not just India’s batsmen who can win games, their bowlers are also capable of doing that. I met Nehra in Delhi when I was there last, and it was flattering to know that he is an admirer of mine. We discussed left-arm bowling there and during the ICC Champions Trophy I spoke to both Nehra and Zaheer. They are hard-working boys who are eager to learn and always trying to improve.

On the Pakistani side of things, our batting has been a bit of a concern. Inzamam is going through a bad phase, and the media back home as well as here are giving him a rough time. Like Allan Donald, Inzamam is a proven performer, and one good game can change things for both these guys. Bad form is temporary, and Inzamam has the class to overcome it and make a contribution.

There is no doubt that Saturday’s game will be much more competitive than some of our past encounters. The players to watch out for are Shoaib and Razzaq. If they both have a good game, Pakistan will be in business.

We have been working hard, and our team spirit and morale have not been affected by the reversals we have faced. We are hanging out together a lot more, and we have a team room wherever we go, so that players are encouraged to play pool, darts and generally have a relaxed time together. That bonhomie was there for the world to see when the team got together to honour me when I reached 500 wickets in ODIs. It was touching to receive 500 roses from the guys, and I was happy to realise that they were sharing my joy at reaching this landmark.

There were reports in the Indian media that I said that I found the comments of Navjyot Singh Sidhu intolerable. I think I was misunderstood. All I said was that if I ever take up the microphone, I would be a little more sympathetic to the players, and would prefer to comment on their technique and what they are doing right/wrong, instead of questioning their ability. Everyone would agree that nobody would be playing for their country if they did not possess ability. I know Sidhu and find him a decent guy. His commentary has a bit of Punjabi humour — which I enjoy — and I also like his up front attitude in the commentary box.

Tomorrow’s game is a big one for both sides, but I would like everybody watching it to relax, enjoy the game, enjoy the pressure and remember that whatever the result may be, it’s only a game.

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