Azhar Mahmood, the Pakistan bowling coach, said his side had nothing to lose in the final of the Champions Trophy against India as the odds and expectations were stacked against them.
Calling the rivalry bigger than the Ashes, Mahmood conceded India had the upper hand in ICC tournaments, but was hopeful Pakistan will draw inspiration from their overall head-to-head record.
“Our record against India is not great in ICC tournaments,” he said on Friday (June 16). “But overall if you see our record, we’ve beaten India quite often. It’s 72-52, I’m not a stat-man but coming to this match, I know my stats,” he laughed.
“Definitely they have had an upper hand in ICC tournaments, but now things have changed and this is the time for us to change the script. It’s a massive game. India refused to play against us and now we’re playing in a bigger stage. It’s like Ashes, it’s bigger than Ashes.
“Definitely they have had an upper hand in ICC tournaments, but now things have changed and this is the time for us to change the script. It’s a massive game. India refused to play against us and now we’re playing in a bigger stage. It’s like Ashes, it’s bigger than Ashes.”
“In India v Pakistan, there’s never a dull game wherever you play. This is an ICC event final. It’s a big match and the expectation is high from both countries. It’s a dream one for the sponsors and broadcasters. It’s up to us how we take it and how we handle the pressure on the day. I think the boys can do it. We’ve got nothing to lose, their odds are higher than us, they’ve got more chance and everyone is talking about India, India.”
Pakistan have surprised many with their run to the final, especially after a demoralising loss to India in their opening match. Mahmood, though, stressed that Pakistan will not be satisfied and said it won’t be a shock if they go on to win the title.
“A victory will mean a lot for us. We haven’t been playing cricket at home, this is an ICC event and we’re ranked No. 8,” he explained. “Two months back we were qualifying for the World Cup stages and now if we win this one, it will be a great boost for a young side like us. We have five-six young guys coming into the side and it will be a great boost for all of us as a team and the whole nation. It will be a good gift for the nation on Eid.
“(But) it won’t be a shock, we’re playing good cricket. We were No. 8 when we came in here and no one gave us credit. I said at the start – someone asked me a question who is going to be in the final – I said Pakistan. Because I believe in my boys and if the boys can believe that, we can go and win this one. It won’t be a surprise or anything, we’re here to win it and that’s our aim.”
Mahmood said the tournament showed Pakistan can defeat any side on their day, but like Mickey Arthur had said earlier, the former paceman demanded consistency from his side.
“We know we can beat any side if we played well,” he said. “That’s why we’re so unpredictable and that’s why we got a lot of following. Because if we play good cricket we can beat any team. But we want to change that tag. When we’re good we’re very good but when we’re bad we’re very poor. We want to change that – me and Mickey and all the coaching staff, we want to bring those things together. Hopefully we can do that.”
The biggest reason for Pakistan’s turnaround in the tournament is their bowling unit, with their ability to take wickets in middle overs in particular derailing opponents. Mahmood called the current bowling unit ‘the best since he took over as coach’ and said the performance was a result of months of hard work.
“It was not overnight, it’s taken six months,” he said. “And there are still things we can improve on. We have worked on the mindset, and the boys are now eager to learn and perform. The credit is not mine, the boys have taken extra responsibility and shown courage. And to do it after the way they were criticised, no amount of credit is enough for them.
“They’re skillful, they’re motivated. They have worked really hard. And I think this is the best bowling unit I’ve worked with Pakistan since the day I became the coach.”
Mahmood was particularly impressed with Hasan Ali, the highest wicket-taker of the tournament with ten scalps. “He’s one of the best bowlers Pakistan have right now,” said Mahmood. “He’s a wicket-taker, and the reason for our wins is that he comes in the middle period and takes wickets. We have an attacking option now with the old ball and new.
“In modern-day cricket where 300 is a par score, the only way to bring the opposition’s run-rate down is to take wickets. If you have a set batsman playing in the 30th over, it can become difficult for bowlers to save the game.”