Shahid Afridi believes Pakistan's recent lack of international cricket will not hamper their chances at the World Twenty20 in England next month. Since January 2007, no team has played as little as Pakistan's ten Tests and 50 ODIs. Even Bangladesh, the weakest Test-playing nation, have played 15 Tests and 55 ODIs and teams such as Australia and India have played nearly three times as much cricket in that time.
The lack of Pakistani participation in the IPL has also not helped, but Afridi, fresh from a successful battle with the Australians, believes Pakistan are strong enough to overcome the dearth. "I don't feel our lack of cricket will make much of a difference because we are still a strong Twenty20 side," Afridi told Cricinfo. "We have a pretty similar team to last time with only a few changes and we have Younis [Khan] as captain now. He has done well and taken the team along with him so far and he will be vital come England."
Afridi himself will be a vital plank in Pakistan's challenge, especially given his fine recent form. He was the leading wicket-taker against Australia, a consistent, nagging threat on slow, low surfaces and pole-axed their batting in Pakistan's crushing Twenty20 win in Dubai. Few will forget either that he was player of the tournament in South Africa two years ago.
England, where he has been effective with the ball in ODIs, offers a different proposition, however. "Wickets in England might be slower, a little less bounce so I'll make slight adjustments to my bowling," he said. "Maybe a bit more flight, but generally, as an ODI leggie, you have to be straight and tight and that works in most conditions."
Until the series against Australia, Afridi's form had been uncertain, especially poor with the bat, over the last year. In 18 matches before the series, his highest score was 28. His bowling, though considerably improved, lacked wicket-taking penetration; in 11 ODIs against established teams last year, he picked up nine wickets.
Pressure was building for his place in the side to be scrutinized. "I don't take or give pressure, no matter what anyone is saying about me. I knew I was backed by the coach, the captain and the team and that is all I needed."
But the form dip did spur him on to a more concentrated fitness and training regime. "It's come about through a lot of individual effort. I've worked really hard on my fitness levels. I used to be tired after bowling six to seven overs previously and then struggle. I've also concentrated in the nets on my lines and lengths because for a legspinner this is vital, especially in ODIs. Abdul Qadir
[the chief selector] has helped with tips, though it is easy to listen and harder to actually execute."
Significantly, there were indicators of a revival in his batting fortunes. Though there was still no fifty, a couple of unusually responsible, properly constructed 40s stood out. The fight to curb his instincts, Afridi said, goes on. "I have really fought with myself in the ground, talked to myself a lot during my batting. I've had to control myself because I need to score runs for the team - that is the priority. I want to continue it in England, where I've had some success batting in county games. You need to counter the initial overs there but after that, conditions for lower-order guys like myself, are pretty good."