Pakistan’s batsman Azhar Ali has insisted his side will treat their Champions Trophy opener against title-holders India in Birmingham on Sunday as “just another game”.
Politics in both countries means the Asian giants, arguably cricket’s fiercest rivals, now rarely meet outside of International Cricket Council events.
Such is the global and commercial appeal of the fixture, the ICC has effectively admitted to ‘doctoring’ the draw to make sure the teams are paired together in the group phase of major tournaments rather than run the risk of them not meeting later on.
For all the anticipation surrounding their latest clash, Azhar told reporters at Edgbaston on Wednesday: “It’s just another game.
“I think when the game starts it looks quite normal. The players play as per the situation and professional players are like that without worrying about anything else,” he added.
Pakistan, who upset the odds to draw a Test series in England last year, have already been in Birmingham for two weeks in preparation for their bid to win the Champions Trophy, a tournament featuring the world’s top eight one-day international teams.
Birmingham boasts one of the largest Asian populations in Britain and a vibrant, sell-out crowd is expected on Sunday.
“A game between Pakistan and India is always good and Birmingham has always had a very good atmosphere,” said Azhar.
The former ODI captain’s tally of 1,605 runs in 45 matches at an average of over 38 would once have been respectable enough.
But in age of ever more aggressive batting and ever higher strike rates, his figures look old-fashioned ─ a criticism that has been made of Pakistan’s overall approach to white-ball cricket as it’s now played.
“We have worked on that,” said the 32-year-old Azhar, recalled for the Champions Trophy.
“We know that the game has gone quite a long way and we have had some good results in the recent past, so we will do our best to match that. Obviously we have to go a long way. We would love to play at the same pace.”
Swing bowling could play a key role in deciding the destiny of the Champions Trophy, particularly if conditions are overcast.
One concern for Pakistan is that Wahab Riaz, one of their most experienced pacemen, has been struggling with a left knee injury.
The left-arm quick did bowl during training on Wednesday, but not at full tilt.
Nevertheless, Azhar said: “Wahab has recovered well so we have no doubt that he will be fit to play. Its international cricket and you have to be 100 per cent fit. He has practised today so we are hoping that by the time the first match comes he will be able to play.”