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Pakistan skipper takes aim at World Twenty20 title

KARACHI: Soon after Shahid Afridi was installed as Pakistan’s one-day captain last year, the flamboyant all-rounder announced that his most cherished desire is to help his country win World Cup 2011.

Afridi did lead Pakistan impressively to the World Cup semi-finals but his team flopped against old rivals India in Mohali on March 30.

Now Afridi, who has been retained as Pakistan’s limited-overs captain following the World Cup defeat, has set his sights on the ICC World Twenty20 Championship to be played in Sri Lanka next year.

“The only way I can really overcome the disappointment of our defeat against India is by winning the Twenty20 World Cup,” Afridi told ‘The News’ before his departure for West Indies on Thursday.

Afridi, 31, said that he is focusing on the 2012 World Twenty20 Championship because he doesn’t know whether he will still be playing international cricket in 2015 when the next edition of the World Cup takes place in Australia and New Zealand.

“I would love to be around for the 2015 World Cup but that’s like four years away. That’s why I’m just focusing on the Twenty20 World Cup in Sri Lanka and want us to take the right steps to ensure that we raise a team that is good enough to win that tournament,” he stressed.

Pakistan reached the final of the inaugural World Twenty20 in South Africa in 2007 with Afridi emerging as one of their best players in the event. Later he played a pivotal role in Pakistan’s title-winning triumph in the second edition of the tournament in 2009 in England.

Afridi was Pakistan’s captain in the third ICC World Twenty20 in the West Indies in 2010 when the Greenshirts fell to Australia in the semifinals from a seemingly-winning position.

Afridi, who is regarded as one of the most destructive allrounders in the Twenty20 format, is confident that Pakistan can go all the way in Sri Lanka which will host the next edition of the hugely-popular tournament.

“We have won the Twenty20 World Cup before and we can do it again,” he said.

But Afridi was quick to add that Pakistan will have to put together a winning formula in the lead up to the 2012 ICC World Twenty20 Championship. And to achieve that, he believes that Pakistan will have to learn a thing or two from India, their chief rivals.

“The Indians started preparing for the World Cup almost two years before the event began and then went on to win it,” he said. “We, too, will have to start right away in our preparations for the Twenty20 World Cup. We should be selecting players for limited-overs matches with an eye on that assignment. That’s the only way we can prepare ourselves in the best possible manner.”

Afridi, who has scored 671 runs and taken 53 wickets from 42 T20 Internationals, is of the view that Pakistan can bank on the existing pool of bowlers but their batting line-up is a different story.

“We have some of the world’s best spinners when it comes to limited-overs matches, especially Twenty20 Internationals. Same is the case with our pacers which is why I’m sure we won’t face many problems in raising a strong bowling attack for the Twenty World Cup,” he said.

“But when it comes to batsmen, I’m not that sure. We lack quality batters both at the top and in the middle-order. We need some really good, young guys who can strengthen our batting in the Twenty20 format. They can serve as much-needed tonic for our batting line-up.”

Afridi is hoping that national selectors will sniff out young blood to help Pakistan overcome this weakness. “It’s a big challenge for our selectors but I’m sure that with the sort of talent we have, Pakistan will get quality batters for Twenty20 matches soon.”

Personally, Afridi is working hard to improve his batting after flopping with the bat in the World Cup.

“As captain and a senior player I believe it’s my responsibility to do contribute with the bat too,” said Afridi, who took 21 wickets in the World Cup. “We will be playing our next series in the West Indies and I’m confident of regaining my batting form there.”

Pakistan will play one Twenty20 International, five One-day Internationals and two Tests during the tour of West Indies. Afridi will lead Pakistan in the six limited-over games while Misbah will take over the captaincy for the two Tests.