Straight drive: Afridi says ‘no chance’ of India-Pakistan cricket while Modi leads

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Shahid Afridi during an exclusive interview with Arab News on Wednesday in Karachi, Pakistan. (AN Photo)
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Shahid Afridi during an exclusive interview with Arab News on Wednesday in Karachi, Pakistan. (AN Photo)
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Shahid Afridi during an exclusive interview with Arab News on Wednesday in Karachi, Pakistan. (AN Photo)
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Updated 27 September 2020

Straight drive: Afridi says ‘no chance’ of India-Pakistan cricket while Modi leads

  • Former skipper tells Arab News Pakistan players ‘missing out’ over IPL ban

KARACHI: Pakistani all-rounder and former skipper Shahid Khan Afridi says there is “no chance” of cricketing ties being revived with India as long as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in power. 
Strained relations between the two nations and a decades-long dispute over the Himalayan valley of Kashmir have laid the foundations for one of the most intense sporting rivalries in the world. 
Ties have been especially strained in the past year after Modi’s government stripped Kashmir’s autonomy, which both nations rule in part but claim in full.
Pakistan and India have not played a bilateral Test series since 2008 when already brittle ties were shattered by the Mumbai terror attacks.
“The government of Pakistan is always ready, but with the present regime (in India) there are no such chances of resuming cricket relations, or of a Pakistan-India series,” Afridi told Arab News in a wide-ranging interview at his home in Karachi this week.
“With Modi in power, I don’t see it’s going to happen.”
Cricket is especially popular in both India and Pakistan, and emotions run high whenever the two sides play each other, usually in packed stadiums resounding with nationalist slogans.

Shahid Afridi during an exclusive interview with Arab News on Wednesday in Karachi, Pakistan. (AN Photo)

In the past New Delhi and Islamabad used cricket matches to try to make progress on issues that have dogged relations, especially the fate of the Kashmir region.
In 1987, then-Pakistan President Gen. Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq visited India to watch a cricket match, but the event was also used to defuse a crisis over troop build-ups on one of the world’s most militarised borders, and the Pakistani leader met Indian prime minister of the day, Rajiv Gandhi.
In 2005, Pakistan’s then-military ruler Pervez Musharraf visited India for a cricket match, but the trip also became a summit with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and the two leaders agreed to open up the Kashmir border.
Afridi agreed that sports could play an important role in improving relations between the two countries, especially since cricket was like a “religion” for the people of India and Pakistan. “So, I think that sports are a thing which can help improve ties,” he said.
Commenting on the 2020 Indian Premier League, which was initially scheduled to begin in March in India, but is being held in the United Arab Emirates due to the coronavirus pandemic, Afridi said Pakistani players were missing a “big opportunity” by not being part of the tournament. 
“I know that IPL is a big brand in the world of cricket and it is an excellent opportunity for Babar Azam or any other Pakistani players to go there, play under pressure and share dressing rooms,” the Pakistani cricketer said. “So, in my opinion, Pakistani players are missing a big opportunity.”
Asked if he stood by an earlier statement that he was more loved in India than in his homeland, Afridi said: “If their love is true, no one can take it away, no matter whose government it is.
“No doubt, the way I have enjoyed cricket in India, I have always appreciated the love and respect I receive from the people of India. And now when I speak on social media, I get many messages from India and reply to many people. I believe that my overall experience in India has been excellent.”
Speaking about the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan, Afridi said the Pakistan prime minister had been an exemplary cricketer who led the country to World Cup victory in 1992, but one should not expect him to change decades of problems in a few years. 

Shahid Afridi during an exclusive interview with Arab News on Wednesday in Karachi, Pakistan. (AN Photo)

“It’s time to fulfil the promises he made before the elections,” Afridi said. “This is a great opportunity; the army is with you, judiciary is there. All are on one page.”
Khan has a favorable “ground and pitch” to achieve success, Afridi said, adding that the PM needed a stronger team to help him win. 
“Imran Khan will have to play with a strong team; he will have to take honest and clean people along with him,” he said. “The people who we see around Imran should work for this country, so the time doesn’t arrive when Imran is all alone.”
Speaking about punishing culprits in the recent case of a woman who was attacked and raped on a major highway in front of her children, Afridi said: “Don’t hang them publicly. But do hang them and set an example — and do it immediately.”
The 40-year-old cricketer is also known for his philanthropic work across Pakistan, and has formerly worked with UNICEF and several national organizations.
He said his parents were his “inspiration” for starting charity work and setting up the Shahid Afridi Foundation, which provides education, health care, access to water and sports rehabilitation in Pakistan’s underprivileged communities. 
Afridi has established hospitals in his hometown of Tirah in Khyber district as well as Kohat. His foundation has distributed rations to 40,000 families across Pakistan and offers free education to deserving students in 14 schools across the country. It also gives scholarships to 10 students from the tribal areas each year. 
Afridi has launched 200 water projects in the tribal districts and the arid Tharparkar region in Sindh, and also helped repatriate over 250 Pakistanis who were stranded in the Middle East due to the coronavirus pandemic. 
“We will have to educate these children,” he said, referring to Pakistan’s tribal areas. “I hope cricket academies will reach these areas.”


Lower expectations for Barcelona entering Champions League

Updated 20 October 2020

Lower expectations for Barcelona entering Champions League

  • Barca have not won since 2015, but since then have never embarked on a new campaign amid so much disarray

MADRID: Despite managing to hang onto Lionel Messi, Barcelona begin its Champions League campaign with reduced expectations after one of their worst seasons in years.
The Catalan club appears to lack its confidence from previous seasons following an embarrassing elimination to Bayern Munich and a troubled off-season in which it nearly lost its talisman.

“Knowing what happened recently, we are not the top favorite,” coach Ronald Koeman said on Monday ahead of the team's debut in this season's competition against Hungarian club Ferencvaros. “But we are a team that can go far.”

Koeman arrived to put Barcelona back on track shortly after the 8-2 collapse against Bayern Munich in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, which capped their first season without a title since 2007-08.

“Barcelona always plays to win titles, in the league and in Europe, but there are other strong teams,” Koeman said.

Barcelona have not  won the Champions League since 2015, but since then they had never embarked on a new campaign in the competition amid so much disarray.

The club avoided losing Messi after he said he wanted to leave, but it continued to endure political turmoil and even financial difficulties. President Josep Bartomeu is facing a censure motion that could force him to leave his post before the end of the year.

Koeman was given the task of revamping the first team, and he quickly got rid of veterans such as Luis Suarez and Ivan Rakitic, but the club failed to bring in any of the players he wanted in the transfer window.

Koeman said Messi is fine despite scoring just once so far this season.

“Maybe his performance could be better, but I see him happy,” Koeman said. “I see him training well and focused. I have nothing to complain about him in that sense.”

He said “a bit of bad luck” has played a role in keeping the Argentina star from scoring more goals so far. Koeman also downplayed criticism of Antoine Griezmann for his recent poor performances, though he admitted that “everyone in the attack” can improve.

Barcelona opened the Spanish league with two convincing wins under Koeman, but then it drew 1-1 with Sevilla at home and lost 1-0 at Getafe on Saturday.

Hungarian champions Ferencvaros return to the Champions League for the first time since 1995. They needed to get through four qualifying rounds to reach the group stage.

The other Group G teams are Juventus and Dynamo Kyiv.

“We want to start with the right foot,” Koeman said. “We want to win the match and gain tranquility.”