Akram says Pakistan hungry

Karachi, May 27: Former Test player Sanjay Manjrekar put his money on defending champions India but pace great Wasim Akram reckons Pakistan, mostly bereft of international cricket, would be hungry for success in next month`s ICC World Twenty20 in England.

Manjrekar had no doubt that Mahendra Singh Dhoni would lead the most formidable squad to try and defend the title they won in 2007 even though he was candid enough to admit it doesn’t necessarily mean they would win the title again.

“India certainly look the strongest team on paper, even though that does not mean they would win the title again,” Manjrekar said.

Reminded that India could not defend the ODI World Cup title which they had won in 1983 under Kapil Dev, Manjrekar said Dhoni`s men were a much stronger unit and stood better chance to lift the trophy again.

“Soon after the 1983 World Cup, West Indies toured India and hammered us. Unlike them, Dhoni’s team is strong enough to defend their title,” Manjrekar said in a programme.

Manjrekar felt this Indian team is stronger than the side that won the inaugural tournament in 2007 and dismissed notion they would be bogged down by the pressure of defending the title.

“I would say this time we actually have a stronger team with enough experience in the ranks. The way players like Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma have come up, it makes India a worthy defender of the title,” Manjrekar said.

“About pressure, I think we are used to it and it`s Dhoni`s second nature to go out with the burden of expectation on his shoulder.”

His view found an echo in Akram, who in fact went on to dismiss media reports that had quoted him as saying that India was no more a favourite in the tournament because of the fatigue factor.

“I did say that fatigue is a concern for India since they have been playing non-stop cricket for a long time but I never said they are not the favourites,” explained the former Pakistan captain.

Like Manjrekar, Akram too felt the Indian team would not crumble under pressure.

“Some teams thrive in pressure, like Australia did till the other day. And I think India too can emulate them,” he said.

Akram, however, warned that Pakistan would be itching to prove themselves after missing international cricket for a while owing to security situation in the country.

“I think the Pakistan team had enough rest and they are hungry to prove their worth and they did well against Australia in the recent ODI series,” he said.

“In this format, Pakistan has got the perfect player in Shahid Afridi, who is bowling well and it would be great if he regains his batting form as well. Then you have Shoaib Malik who can both bat and bowl and Ajmal Khan has also been cleared (of suspect action charges), which makes Pakistan a very balanced side,” Akram said.

Afridi’s inconsistent batting has been a concern for Pakistan and Akram said the explosive all-rounder is unlikely to change.

“When I was the captain, people used to ask me why didn`t I guide him. Well, we used to have team meetings in which I used to tell him something and he would say `yes captain` and then walk out and get out in the first ball.”

“I could not change him in 10 years and I don`t think anyone can change him even in 100 years,” Akram quipped.

Meanwhile, both he and Manjrekar agreed that Twenty20 is not about mindless slogging alone.

“IPL proved that you need certain skills to negotiate the spinner. You just cannot walk out and start slogging a spinner with a heavy bat. You have to have good footwork and some intuition,” Manjrekar said.

Akram seconded his view and said a batsman would need to plan his innings in order to excel in this format.

“It has been proved that Twenty20 is altogether a different ball game, compared to what people initially thought. You just cannot go there and play your shots right from the word go. You have to get your eyes in and plan your innings. I think we are going to see scores in the vicinity of 170-180 in England,” Akram said.