Amir, Afridi hold key for Pakistan

19 March 2016
Shahid Afridi and Virat Kohli shake hands in Kolkata // Getty Images

Shahid Afridi and Virat Kohli shake hands in Kolkata // Getty Images

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EXCLUSIVE: With an in-form batting line-up and the best bowling attack at the World T20, Pakistan can overcome India at Eden Gardens

For us sportsmen, the greatest pressure in life comes from expectation. And the more expectation, the greater the pressure.

The most important factor in a match between Pakistan and India – on a stage such as the ICC World T20 – is mental strength, and whether you are ready to take up the challenge.

An occasion such as this can make you a hero or a zero, and an India-Pakistan match is all about the expectations.

The subcontinent arch-rivals are set to lock horns at the iconic Eden Gardens in Kolkata later today.

The cricketing stage cannot get bigger than that. There will be expectations and there will be pressure. Millions of people will have their eyes on the players. In the stadium alone there will be 70,000 people watching their every move. 

If the performances from the first games are anything to go by, Pakistan will have an advantage going into the match because, after their batting debacle in Nagpur, India will be short on confidence and self-belief.

WATCH: Pakistan's skipper exploded for 49 then took two key wickets as the Green Machine routed subcontinent rivals Bangladesh by 55 runs in the Group 2 match in Kolkata

The thoughts in the Pakistan camp will be, 'If the New Zealand bowlers can bowl out India for 79 in these conditions, why not us?'

Pakistan will be high on confidence and India will be low – and that's a mental edge that gives Pakistan a good chance to finally beat India in a world event.

It goes without saying that Pakistan have a formidable bowling attack and it is their biggest strength. The pace trio of Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Irfan and Wahab Riaz in combination with Afridi, Imad Wasim and Shoaib Malik is a group that will make many teams envious.

Mohammad Amir could be the key for Pakistan against India // Getty Images

It is arguably the best attack at the World T20.

I think Pakistan should stick with this combination throughout the tournament – even if they are given Nagpur-like conditions, Shahid, Imad and Shoaib can bowl 12 overs and Amir and Irfan can be equally lethal with their cutters.

Amir is now more intelligent than he was before. He has become more mentally strong after the situation he has been put through.

He was just 18 when he left cricket and that's an age when you're still learning and becoming an adult with the way you act and think.

The hard work he has done is paying off. Although he would have been even better had he continued playing, the absence hasn’t hurt him much.

He has an amazing game awareness and is beyond his years when it comes to bowling intelligence. If you can swing the ball late from fuller lengths at 145kph you can trouble any batsman.

He has the ability to finish the deliveries at stumps and swing it both ways and these are the traits that make him a special bowler.

I don’t think anyone can consider him an ordinary bowler; he is as extraordinary as he was five years ago. The way he bowls, the amount of swing he generates, the pace and the maturity he has, he is a special bowler and his recent performances have shown that.  

I feel his performance against India, along with those of Irfan, will be the most important factor for Pakistan and will define where the game will go. If they manage to unsettle India’s top order it will become difficult for them to come back.

Although they have many capable players, Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli form the backbone of India’s batting.

Virat Kohli is one of the world's best T20 batsmen // Getty Images

If Amir and Irfan can provide early inroads, life will become very difficult for India.

Another advantage Pakistan will have is the conditions at Eden Gardens, a venue which has always suited them.

They have good memories from this ground – about three years ago they beat India in a One-Day International there and sealed a series win – and that will be playing in the mind of the players.

Overall, they have a 4-0 record in ODIs against India at Eden Gardens, and 5-1 overall.

Past performances instill belief; if you have won in similar situations before you feel mentally strong.

And by the start of the match Pakistan will have spent a week in Kolkata and won two matches, unlike India, who will be arriving from Nagpur.

The conditions are totally different from what the batsmen copped a fortnight ago in Dhaka during the Asia Cup.

The form of the top order was Pakistan’s biggest worry coming into the tournament. But with Ahmed Shehzad joining the squad and scoring a fifty on comeback and Mohammad Hafeez shining in both the warm-up and the opening game with 70no and 64, Pakistan now seem to have a settled top order.

Again I would say the Eden Gardens' conditions have helped Pakistan batsmen getting in the groove.

The fact that captain Shahid Afridi got his mojo back is also an extremely good sign for the team. It will give confidence to both him and his teammates.

Shahid Afridi coming off a man of the match display // GettyImages

There was never a doubt on his potential and we all know he can demoralise the opposition on his day. The reason behind his inconsistency is he gets impatient at times and once you are impatient you forget the basics, and that's a dangerous thing, no matter how destructive you are.

He needs to remember the 'winning process' and the game he played in the first game against Bangladesh. Pakistan badly needed to have him back in form and his contributions in the next games will define Pakistan’s future in this global event.

WATCH: Pakistan passed 200 for the first time a World T20 as skipper Shahid Afridi was at his best to punish the Banglesh bowlers in their Super 10 clash in Kolkata

By the winning process I mean the way the whole team performed. After a decent opening stand, Hafeez had a brilliant partnership with Shehzad, with neither of them panicking or looking for boundaries to hurriedly. They took stock of the situation and looked to rotate the strike whenever boundaries weren't possible. Afridi's power hitting and Malik's cameo in the last overs capped off an excellent team innings. The bowlers struck early and made use of the new ball. The team must look to emulate this process in the next games.

The team combination Pakistan had in the first game is the best they can get on paper, but now is certainly not the time to get complacent.

Sharjeel Khan and Shehzad have done well as openers and Hafeez is back in form. Umar Akmal, Shoaib Malik and Sarfraz Ahmed had already done well in the Asia Cup and have runs under their belt. It can safely be said that all the batsmen are in form.

My message to the players will be to stay calm and take it like any other game. Do not panic and remember the game you played against Bangladesh. With the current team combination you have all the bases covered, and you have the best bowling attack in the tournament. The way you have started off it has provided hope that you can beat India and go on to win the World T20.