Saturday, February 12, 2011

Don't take us lightly, warns Afridi

 DHAKA: Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi on Saturday warned World Cup rivals not to underestimate his team, saying the players had turned a new leaf after the match-fixing scandal.

Afridi admitted Pakistan had been blown away by the scandal, which saw former captain Salman Butt and two leading pacemen, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamer, punished for their alleged involvement.

All three were banned for a minimum of five years by the International Cricket Council, which ruled them out of the World Cup, and also face criminal proceedings in England.

"I think we're really going through a very tough situation," Afridi told reporters in the Bangladeshi capital ahead of the marquee tournament opening on February 19.

"But I am very happy because we are trying to rebuild the team and keep the morale high. I am confident the team is in very good shape now.

Afridi's team will play practice matches against Bangladesh and England in Dhaka over the next few days, before their first Cup match against Kenya in the Sri Lankan town of Hambantota on February 23.

The Pakistan captain said his team was "focussed and united" under his leadership.

"They feel hungry to win a big event and want to play good cricket," he said, adding recent wins in New Zealand had bolstered the team's morale.

Afridi said fans would see a vastly improved Pakistan in the World Cup. "Inshallah (God willing), we will achieve our goal," he said.

Afridi paid tribute to manager Intikhab Alam and coach Waqar Younis for keeping the team in good spirits amid the controversy.

Pakistan was initially due to co-host the tournament with India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, but were stripped of hosting rights after gunmen attacked the Sri Lankan team in March, 2009.

Pakistan, World Cup winners in 1992, have been drawn with reigning champions Australia, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Canada in group A of the preliminary league.

Four teams from the group will advance to the quarter-finals.

Afridi said he wanted Pakistan to meet India in the April 2 final at the Wankhede stadium in Mumbai.

"That would be the perfect final for the cricket-loving people in both countries," he said.

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