DUBAI: Pakistan captain Babar Azam plays a shot during a training session at the ICC Academy on Wednesday.—courtesy PCB
DUBAI: Pakistan captain Babar Azam plays a shot during a training session at the ICC Academy on Wednesday.—courtesy PCB

DUBAI: Pakistan had just finished their first training session for the Asia Cup at the ICC Academy here on Wednesday, when players from India arrived to being their practice.

The arch-rivals are due to lock horns in a blockbuster Group ‘A’ opener on Sunday and while all talk ahead of the six-team Twenty20 tournament has surrounded that clash, Pakistan’s batting coach Mohammad Yousuf is looking beyond it.

“The first thought is to win the Asia Cup and we’re focused on that goal,” Yousuf told reporters after the training session, when asked how the Pakistan team was gearing up for the clash. “The preparation is for the whole tournament. We’re not looking just at the India match rather we’re looking to win the whole tournament.”

The last clash between the two teams was also in Dubai, when Pakistan beat India at the Twenty20 World Cup in October last year. That helped Pakistan end their jinx of never having won against India in a World Cup match.

Yousuf said Pakistan players are heading into the Asia Cup high on confidence on the back of good recent results. Babar Azam’s men won three of their last four Twenty20 Inter­nationals since losing the semi-final at the World Cup to Australia last year. There have also been ODI clean sweeps over the West Indies and, more recently, the Netherlands.

“Players have been performing, they are winning matches which is always good,” said Yousuf. “In our [coaching] roles, we’re trying to give them the best support so that they can excel on the pitch.”

Yousuf had special praise for Pakistan captain Babar, who he reckons is doing an exceptional job both as a leader on the pitch as well as the team’s batting mainstay.

“Babar has shown he’s a top cricketer and has performed in pressure situations to prove his greatness,” said the former batting maestro. He’s captain of the side in all three formats and continues to perform in both roles. The players respond to him and he’s performing exceptionally.”

Pakistan are without pace spearhead Shaheen Shah Afridi, who was ruled out of the Asia Cup due to injury. Yousuf, though, would not talk about how the team was planning to do without Shaheen nor would he comment on how his replacement Mohammad Hasnain was feeling on his return to the team as Shaheen’s replacement.

“That’s not my domain,” he said. “You’d probably have to ask the bowling coach or the head coach about that.”

UMAR TO ASSIST TAIT

Meanwhile, Pakistan on Wednesday drafted in highly-rated bowling coach Umar Rashid to assist fast bowling coach Shaun Tait during the Asia Cup.

The Pakistan Cricket Board said that Umar had been included in the player support personnel list on the recommendation of head coach Saqlain Mushtaq.

Umar has worked with Pakistan’s emerging pacers at PCB’s National High Perfo­rmance Centre and crucially helped Hasnain in returning to international cricket after his bowling action was deemed illegal.

Hasnain last featured for Pakistan in the T20 series against the West Indies at home in December last year and he will have a tough job on his hands to replace Shaheen, whose loss was described by Saqlain as a “big setback”.

Saqlain, however, backed his bowling unit to deliver the goods in his interview with the Press Trust of India news agency on Monday.

“Obviously, losing Shaheen is a big setback to us before the tournament because he is someone who has proven himself at the top level and done well against the best batsmen,” Saqlain said.

“It is never easy to replace a player like Shaheen because of his quality but the resources we have are good and we are backing them to deliver for us,” added the former spinner, who is pinning his hopes on youngsters Naseem Shah and Hasnain.

“We are covered in all bases and though the fast bowlers are not that experienced but they have plenty of confidence and spirit.”

Published in Dawn, August 25th, 2022

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