Agencies

DHAKA -Far from being daunted by the prospect of facing India in their World Twenty20 opener on Friday, Pakistan captain M Hafeez is rather happy his team will kick off their campaign in Bangladesh against the arch-rivals.

The bitter South Asian rivals have fought three wars in their brief independent history and remain deeply mistrustful of each other and there has been tremendous pressure on the cricketers whenever they met each other. Hafeez, however, was determined not to get swayed by the emotion that would surround the match at Mirpur's Shere Bangla National Stadium. "India-Pakistan game is always full of pressure," the 33-year-old told reporters on Saturday. "We as a team are very happy. I'm happy that our first match is such that if we do well in it, subsequent matches would seem easier, as far as pressure is concerned. Of course you can't underestimate any team in this tournament, but we'd like to take off well from there."

Hafeez insisted Pakistan could not afford to get distracted by their rivalry against India if they are to replicate their 2009 triumph from a group also containing defending champions West Indies and tournament favourite Australia. "Media is always excited about India-Pakistan match but we are not targeting just one team. We have plans for Australia and West Indies as well, both are good sides. We are ready for all," he said. "It seems our group has all the favourites in it. It's again a good challenge for the team. You can't take things easy. You have to give your best to win the game."

Although Pakistan have only beaten India once in five T20s, the memory of their Asia Cup win is still fresh - even if their hero on the night, Shahid Afridi, has not travelled with the team to Bangladesh. Hafeez said that Afridi, now something of an ageing rockstar within a rejuvenated team, had been given extra time to improve his fitness and would join the squad on Monday. "I think our team manager cleared the position before we left Pakistan. He is fit, we've just given him some extra time for his rehab, so that he joins us fully fit. I think he is joining us on (March) 17th."

India were missing a talisman of their own during the defeat in Dhaka but Hafeez played down the significance of MS Dhoni's return from a period of rest. Pakistan are the most successful side in the World T20's short history - having lifted the trophy once, to go alongside two semi-finals and the 2007 final - but India could end the tournament in possession of all three global ICC titles. Never mind the history, it is a heady mix.

"We beat India in the Asia Cup and with the exception of any individual it doesn't make any difference," Hafeez said. "But, yes, I understand that there are some key players that can make a difference and Dhoni's leadership has been good in last four, five years. But for us it's not a talking point that he wasn't there and now he is here to lead India. What we need is to play well whoever is our opponent and that is the most important thing. The element of pressure is actually a factor of motivation. It is always an extreme pleasure with the crowd response and we always enjoy playing against India and for the upcoming match we are very excited."

Eleven of Pakistan's T20 squad took part in the Asia Cup, with the form of Ahmed Shehzad, Umar Akmal and Saeed Ajmal particularly impressive, alongside that of Afridi. Pakistan have a reputation for unpredictability but their current form, under new coach, Moin Khan, bodes well. "Momentum in any tournament plays an important role and with sort of cricket we have played in Asia Cup, we have got that momentum," Hafeez said.