BIRMINGHAM: Pakistan 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.
A former captain of the Pakistan ODI side, Azhar’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.