Akhtar doubtful for WC semi-final against India
Mohali: Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi on Tuesday said that retiring pacer Shoaib Akhtar is racing against time to be fit for the World Cup semi-final against India and is a doubtful starter for the high-profile match to be played at the PCA stadium on Wednesday.
Akhtar has played just three games in the tournament before being dropped but current and former Pakistan players have been calling for the experienced pacer`s return in the playing eleven in a bid to unsettle the Indian batsmen.
Afridi, however, said that the team management will take a call on the temperamental pacer later in the day.
"Shoaib is not 100 per cent (fit). He is trying his level best to play and we will decide on him in the evening," Afridi said during the pre-match press conference.
The 35-year-old Akhtar, who has played 163 ODIs for Pakistan, also received support from teammates Umar Gul and Misbah-ul-Haq.
The Pakistani skipper seemed to have started mind games when he said that pressure will be more on India compared to his team during the match.
"We are not the most favourite team for this competition. India is the most favourite and we have played above expectations. We are enjoying our cricket," Afridi said.
"If you know how to handle it, there is no need to panic. I think we will enjoy playing here," he said when asked if the match was being seen more as a battle of nerves.
Admitting that it is always a big challenge to play against India in their home turf, Afridi said his team was up for the task at hand.
"This game is very important for both the sides. We have prepared well for this game and we are confident," he said.
Apart from a place in the April 2 World Cup final at stake, tomorrow`s match will also witness cricket diplomacy with Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and his India counterpart Manmohan Singh attending the game.
And Afridi said the sport has and will always build the bridge between the two nations, who have not played a bilateral series since the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.
"I think it`s a great sign for both countries and sports, especially cricket always brings these two countries together," Afridi said.
Afridi said he was honoured to represent and lead Pakistan in the match.
"I am a cricketer first, then a diplomat and ambassador or whatever you may call," he said.
Afridi also held the media responsible for strained relations between the two neighbouring countries.
"Media ki vajeh say India, Pakistan kay relations itney kharab huvein hein (it is because of the media that relations between the two sides have deteriorated)," he lamented.
He also sought to blame the media for twisting his comments on Sachin Tendulkar, who is just one away from reaching the milestone of 100 international tons.
Praising the Mohali track, Afridi said to an extent it would be correct to say that tomorrow`s contest would be between Pakistan`s strong bowling attack versus India`s formidable batting line-up.
Afridi, who is the highest wicket-taker in the tournament with 21 scalps, said he has transformed as a bowler.
"My focus has been on bowling," the all-rounder said.
He also praised the controversy-ridden Pakistan team for its impressive display in the tournament.
"The guys have been doing a good job over the past 7-8 months. The team has played as a unit," Afridi said.