Afridi coping with pressure of Pakistan captaincy

The team has developed a much-needed fighting spirit under Afridi's captaincy: Rashid Latif

COLOMBO: The pressure of captaining Pakistan has seen at least six skippers try their hand over the last two years in three formats of the game.

The current incumbent, Shahid Afridi, is so far coping with that kind of pressure and has put his side firmly among the title-contenders for the World Cup with three successive victories in Group A.

Shoaib Malik, Younis Khan, Mohammad Yousuf, the now banned Salman Butt, and Misbah-ul-Haq have all led Pakistan in either test matches, one-day internationals or Twenty20 games since 2009, the last time a foreign team toured Pakistan.

Sri Lanka aborted its tour two years ago after gunmen attacked the team bus in Lahore, killing six policemen and a driver, and leaving several players injured.

The Pakistan Cricket Board handed the reins of the one-day and Twenty20 captaincy teams to Afridi in June last year, and he found the job just as tough as his predecessors had.

Pakistan failed to qualify for the Asia Cup final and also lost one-day series in England and against South Africa in the United Arab Emirates.

Another change of command was expected just before the World Cup, but Afridi was retained as captain after he took an unassailable 3-1 lead against New Zealand in the one-day series.

The spot-fixing affair which saw three key players —Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir —banned for at least five years has meanwhile made Afridi even more determined to get the best out of his available players.

”The team has developed a much-needed fighting spirit under Afridi’s captaincy, which is a very heartening thing to see after months of turmoil,” former Pakistan captain Rashid Latif told The Associated Press.

In both its close-run matches against Sri Lanka and Canada, Afridi’s athleticism on the field made his teammates believe in themselves and denied the opposition victories.

Latif believes Afridi’s enthusiasm is ”the secret behind our success, and the sprits of Pakistan team players look high under his leadership.”

Afridi has also set the example for his teammates, notably with his brilliant low catch of Upul Tharanga against Sri Lanka and a run out of Gordon Taylor with a direct throw against Canada on Thursday night.

For the time being, it seems Afridi’s faster legspinners could make up for the absence of Asif and Amir —with his 14 wickets in three World Cup matches including two five-wicket hauls, against Kenya (5-16) and Canada (5-23).

”I always first focus on my bowling,” Afridi said. ”I am getting spin on these pitches and the ball skids so I am getting wickets.”

The big-hitting Afridi has played 315 ODIs and holds the world record of striking the most sixes in one-day internationals with 288. But he has yet to hit his first six in three World Cup matches after innings of 7, 16 and 20.

”I was shaping up well against Canada but then got out,” he said after being caught at point off a low wide full toss.

So far, middle-order batsmen Khan, Misbah and Akmal brothers Kamran and Umar are putting enough runs on the board for Afridi to defend the totals with his mercurial legspin bowling.

The real test will come against bigger teams like Australia and, to some extent New Zealand, which played the legspinner in a six-match series which finished just a month ago.

Afridi had been criticized by former test players Imran Khan and Wasim Akram for playing with only three specialist bowlers to fit in allrounder Abdul Razzaq at No. 8.

But Afridi has persisted with Razzaq in the hope that the allrounder will deliver when it matters most for Pakistan. And so far, the results have backed the skipper.