Pakistan feel confident in T20s - Hafeez
"Sweep kaenu maar riya hai? Outside off stump ball thi (Why are you sweeping? The ball was outside off stump)," Mohammad Hafeez, the bowler, told Sohail Tanvir, the batsman, during Pakistan's practice session at the Pallekele stadium ahead of their opening game against New Zealand. The emphasis was on playing more orthodox strokes. Hafeez, the captain, had earlier been asked whether Twenty20 was the sort of cricket jo na tameez se kheli jaati hai, naa tameez se dekhi (neither played nor watched properly - a line from a popular TV advert). He chuckled but explained that the prevalent notion of T20 being a hit-and-miss game no longer counts.
"At the stage where T20 is today, it is not as if you don't have to work hard for it," Hafeez said. "You have to plan a lot of things. Technically, a lot of advancements have come into the format and you have to accordingly prepare yourself. You have to play this format with a lot of awareness now."
There is something about Pakistan and T20 cricket. They have made it to the knockouts of all three editions of the tournament, winning it in 2009. Hafeez said the format allowed the players more freedom. "Pakistan play freely and express themselves in this format. That does not mean we don't express ourselves in Tests and ODIs but T20 frees up you up a bit more to go in and execute your skills. As a team we feel more confident when we get to the T20s."
Throughout the press conference, Hafeez stressed the importance of Pakistan winning the recent T20I series against Australia in the UAE and how that had helped them achieve their preparation goals for the global event. "The team's desire was to win the series against Australia, everyone worked hard for it. We had decided that we would bring in a very positive momentum with us to this tournament. We have done that. Our intention was to give all the players a chance before the mega event, which we did. At the moment, we have achieved what we wanted to in the lead-up to this event.
"Another positive sign was the way we chased so well against India [in their first warm-up game]. All the boys are positive, well-prepared and fit."
The conditions in Pallekele, where Pakistan will play their group games against New Zealand and Bangladesh, have favoured fast bowlers with some movement and carry. Pakistan have played a few games at the venue and Hafeez said they had the attack to do well here. "We don't rely just on our spinners. We have excellent fast bowlers. The conditions here assist the seamers, there is some bounce as well and it swings too. We have played in these conditions before. We had come here for the SLPL too. All of us have played against New Zealand before. This is a plus point for us that we have faced their bowling before."
Hafeez said having watched both Bangladesh and New Zealand during the group's opening game on Friday would help Pakistan plan better but admitted they needed to improve their batting. "As a batting unit we really have to work hard not only in this tournament but overall. We know we have to take the responsibilities. We have seen that with some players, they have shown great character. Kamran Akmal is one of them. He is in good form. Everybody has to play their roles to win a game for Pakistan."
The next ball after trying the sweep, Tanvir lofted gracefully over extra cover. "That's more like it," a satisfied Hafeez said. Now for the entire line-up to follow the captain's cue tomorrow against New Zealand.
Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo