Kolkata: Freed from the clutches of domestic and cross-border political one-upmanship, Pakistan's cricketers now have the opportunity to express themselves — on the ground and beyond.
While the team as an unit will want to use the big stage of the World T20 to show they are still a force to reckon with, yesterday some players took the opportunity to also reveal how special it is for them to play in India.
"I've enjoyed playing in India more than anywhere else. I'm at the last stage of my 20-year career and I can say that I will always remember the love I've received in India for the rest of my life. It's even more than what I have received in Pakistan," gushed skipper Shahid Afridi.
Senior pro Shoaib Malik echoed the same sentiments. "My wife (tennis star Sania Mirza) is from India and I visit this country a lot. I don't feel any security concerns," he said. "I don't see any difference between Pakistani and Indian people. We eat the same food. Talk the same language. I have always received a lot of love here and I feel honoured to be in India."
While making it clear that "whatever decision the state takes, we're behind them", Afridi reminded "sports has always brought the two nations closer". "Can there be anything better than cricket. I think we should keep politics away from it," he said.
He brushed away suggestions that the events of the past few days were a distraction. "We were practicing and didn't think about it. Physically and mentally we're ready," he said. The Pakistan team practiced yesterday morning at Eden under heightened security arrangements.