Babar Azam was in for a pleasant surprise when he walked in for the press conference on the eve of the big India-Pakistan match in Ahmedabad. A mild smile escaped his lips when the press officer announced that Shahid Hashmi, who yesterday became the only pressman from Pakistan here till now, would be asking the question.
The veteran that he is, Hashmi saw his opportunity and started off with the stat that Babar and Pakistan must have grown sick of by now: 7-0. It is all over on the TV, news channels, websites and social media that Pakistan have played India seven times in 50-over World Cups and have never won.
Babar maintained his composure as he is known to do with the bat and with the mic, and said: "I believe there is no point focusing on whatever has happened in the past. I believe we need to focus on what is ahead of us," he said. "All these streaks are made to be broken. God willing, we will try to give our best tomorrow. Anything can happen on the day. I fully believe my team has done well in the first three matches, and will continue doing so in the coming matches."
The line of questioning was not to stop. A reporter asked him: "Everything about cricketing pressure is okay, but what about friends and family? Aren't they pestering Pakistan to reverse it for once?" For once Babar displayed his Punjabi humour: "I don't know about that, but all the calls we are getting are for tickets only."
However, Babar is not one to downplay how big the match is. "India-Pakistan is a big game, high-intensity game. All I have said to the boys is: give yourselves the best opportunity to win. Keep doing what you have been doing. execute your plans, keep your belief, Ahmedabad is a big stadium, a lot of people are coming, but this is a great opportunity for us to do well in front of them."
Not only are India the stiffest opposition this World Cup, this will probably be the most hostile and biggest crowd Pakistan will have ever played against. It won't be like Hyderabad where they got generous support from the crowds. Babar only sees this as an opportunity.
"This is not pressure," Babar said. "We have played in front of large crowds before. MCG and all the big stadiums. Yes, this is also a big stadium. And yes, Ahmedabad will be mostly blue. If Pakistan fans had been allowed, they would have loved to support us. But when we entered Hyderabad, we saw a lot of supporters of Pakistan team. I expect the same, and we are looking forward to the match."
Last year at the MCG, after a long time, both sides went into a World Cup match on an even keel, and they produced a contest to fit the billing. The absence of Naseem Shah is a big dent to those expectations this time around, but Babar backed Shaheen Shah Afridi to make up for his absence.
"Of course, we will miss Naseem Shah," Babar said. "The way he was bowling in the Asia Cup, he was very impressive. He was young and improving day by day. We miss him a lot as a team and as a captain. As far as Shaheen is concerned, he is our best bowler, he is our champion, I believe he is a big-match bowler. He will give a big performance. It doesn't matter if he hasn't taken wickets in the last one or two matches. There is no question mark against him. We totally believe in him. He totally believes in himself."
The teams have become much more professional than back in the day when a defeat to each other used to end captaincy tenures. Babar was asked if that history worried him
"Neither did I get captaincy for one match nor will I lose it because of one match," Babar said. "I will get whatever Allah has written in my fate. We will just try to keep plans simple, give ourselves the best opportunity to go execute the plans, and most importantly enjoy the experience."