The longetivity of Pakistan all-rounder Mohammad Hafeez, whose career spanned 18 years, saw him witness India through the last three captaincy phases. Having made his debut in 2003, Hafeez played against the Sourv Ganguly-led Indian side before MS Dhoni took over the reigns in 2007. Hafeez played his last match against India in the 2021 T20 World Cup game in Dubai, which was led by Virat Kohli, before retiring in January next year. From an opposition’s perspective, none could make a better judgment of who was the better Indian side and Hafeez’s answer was a blunt. While he hailed Dhoni and Kohli for taking India to new highs, he reserved his ultimate praise for Ganguly.
In an exclusive interview with Hindustan Times Digital on the sidelines of the ongoing Legends League Cricket (LLC) in Doha, Hafeez talks about his participation in the tournament, his most memorable India versus Pakistan moment and the 2017 Champions Trophy final. Here are excerpts…
Q) You came here directly from the ongoing PSL season. How does it feel to be part of the league where you are up against some of the old rivals and have some of the old teammates?
I was part of the first edition of LLC as well. I found it exciting and loved the concept very much. I had played only two matches back then and so I was looking forward to participating in it again.
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I was really happy to watch and meet again some of my best friends, against whom we have played some great cricket – Harbhajan Singh, Gautam Gambhir – we spent a lot of good times together. LLC provided me that opportunity to meet them again. It doesn’t really matter who wins or loses on the ground, what matters is the legacy of the tournament.
Q) You have been part of so many India vs Pakistan matches. Your most memorable moment?
Every India versus Pakistan match is a memorable one. Whether you lose or win, the experience of being part of the match is totally different. You are appreciated when you win the match and on losing, the fans passionately express their anger. But the one that I remember was that Bengaluru innings (scored 61 off 44 and was named Player of the Match) after which we had won – the T20I match in 2012. There was pin drop silence. I remember it vividly and I want to feel it again. Because when there is a India versus Pakistan game in India and we end up performing well, the packed-stadium becomes silent, I loved that the most.
Q) You have seen India through three different eras – Ganguly, Dhoni, Kohli. Which side was best or the more competitive one?
The foundation was laid in the Ganguly era, that is when that mindset was developed that they can beat the world. In Pakistan, to be very honest, that feel was there in the past. We did have a team who could go to any place in the world, look into the eyes of the opponent and play aggressive cricket. In India, that feel came only in the Ganguly era. A finer version of it was seen during Dhoni’s captaincy and that continued through the years making India one of the most favourite teams in any series or tournament.
Q) One of your most memorable matches must be that 2017 Champions Trophy final. An impressive 57 you scored. But Hardik Pandya must have given Pakistan quite a scare there with his power-hitting abilities?
There was a very strong feeling in the dressing room after we beat Sri Lanka and tournament favourites England that we can get the better of any team in the world. So when we went up against India, there was that pressure, but we were also very sure and confident as a team of winning that match. But we also had a strategy. India were comfortable chasing between 280 to 300 and so we decided to break that. We gave a 339-run target to them. So that 40-runs of pressure that we put in their minds, that worked a lot. Everything combined – the performance of Fakhar Zaman and Mohammad Amir – all fell in place for us. And when he dismissed Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma early, we knew we would win because had they performed India would have won. Yes Hardik Pandya performed really well, paatake ache jalaye, but it didn’t work for that day.