He admits his request is strange and uncharacteristic but Shoaib Akhtar has implored Pakistani fans to come out in full support of the Indian cricket team when it takes on England in an ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 match at Birmingham on Sunday.
Pakistan and India remain arch rivals and have an intense - often bitter cricketing rivalry. Even when India plays against other countries, Pakistani fans rarely back the Men in Blue and this is true for most Indian supporters as well when Pakistan takes on other teams. Sunday, however, throws up a contrasting image with former Pakistani pacer Akhtar requesting his countrymen to bleed blue. "India, the whole of Pakistan stands with you in the match against England. I request everyone, even those Pakistanis who are in England, to support India. Very odd that as a Pakistani I am saying it but please support whoever you think is right," he said on his official Youtube channel.
Akhtar may feel it is odd to ask his countrymen to support India but Pakistan desperately needs India to defeat England to ensure that they can remain ahead of the host country in the points table. Akhtar, in his appeal, also explains the situation. "If India defeats England, game is over. Then, Pakistan will need to win just one match to qualify (for the semis)," he said.
Pakistan is currently placed fourth in the points table after the team's narrow win against Afghanistan. England, with eight points, is fifth and just one point short of Pakistan. A win against India will help England nudge past Pakistan at the fourth spot in a table from which only four teams can move ahead. A loss for India - unbeaten in World Cup 2019 - is highly unlikely to affect its prospects in the tournament. And while Virat Kohli and his players are unlikely to give England an inch, Pakistani fans too are keeping their fingers crossed and are likely to cheer the loudest for India.