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CW World Cup Countdown. Day 14 - Pakistan
10 Mar 2007
By: Eddie Sanders


As part of a series of articles leading up to the World Cup, Cricket Web presents a daily review on the background, players and prospects a specific competing team, starting with the minnows and building up to the favourites. Today we feature Pakistan.

Introduction

Benjamin Franklin was reputed to have said: 'Only two things in life are certain - death and taxes'. To those inevitabilities, it seems, can be added a third - controversy in relation to the Pakistan cricket team. Seldom can a side burgeoning with so much natural talent have had such a propensity for hitting the self-destruct button, but it hasn't always been so.
Oh, wait - yes it has.

Lead-up to the Tournament

Pakistan's run-up to the tournament has been long and full of incident. A comfortable whitewash against the West Indies in 2005 seemed to confirm Shahid Afridi as a true match-winning all-rounder with both bat and ball, but six months later events surrounding an impromptu mid-wicket Fandango in a test series against England saw him have to sit out the first two one-dayers. Despite this setback, Pakistan were rather more comfortable victors than the eventual 3-2 scoreline suggested.

Defeat at home to India in early 2006 was balanced out by a comfortable victory in Sri Lanka and they more than held their own in England, but this, sadly, was a tour overshadowed by further controversy. Greatly weakened by the absence of Inzamam-ul-Haq, Pakistan were hugely disappointing in the ICC Champions Trophy, and results since then have been largely overshadowed by drug allegations, bans, the overthrowing of bans, injuries real or alleged, and Hair problems.

Afridi maddeningly made the news for all the wrong reasons again recently when his remonstration with a spectator at Centurion Park went a little too far. His subsequent four-match ban sees him missing the first two World Cup group matches, one of which is a potential make-or-break opener against the West Indies.

On the eve of the 2007 World Cup, it is decidedly unfortunate too that the Pakistan Cricket Board once again find themselves embroiled in a bitter row, this time with Malcolm Speed of the ICC, over a knee, an elbow and two players who had been banned over a failed drugs test before being reinstated, but who now find themselves removed from of the squad because of ?fitness problems'. Harbouring a sense of injustice could work in Pakistan's favour if the rage is channelled, but equally it could completely overwhelm them if it isn't. Only time will tell.

Key Players

Shahid Afridi

If one man epitomises everything about Pakistan cricket, it is the mercurial Afridi. Outrageously talented with both bat and ball, he can be magnificently belligerent one moment and decidedly fragile the next. On the one hand a world record holder for recording a 37-ball century, on the other a chronic under-achiever whose typical innings lasts just 21 deliveries on average. His absence from Pakistan's first two group games, certainly from a batting perspective, might mean everything - or nothing. His leg-spin, however, has come on in leaps and bounds in recent years, and the notable bowling absentees from Pakistan's squad mean that he will be vital in this department.

Inzamam-ul-Haq

The Pakistan captain's average of a little under 40 might well be on the wane in recent years, but he still retains the capability to dominate the middle stages of an innings. An extremely subtle and wristy batsman for one of such bulky physique, he can be quite destructive when the mood takes him, especially through the midwicket region. As the sands of time inexorably run down for the immensely proud leader, World Cup 2007 might well be his final curtain call. A first century for three years is not beyond him though, even at this late stage in his career.

Kamran Akmal

Successive centuries against England more than a year ago seemed to indicate that Kamran Akmal had arrived on the world stage as a potential match-winner with the bat. Since those heady days, a single fifty from his last 27 innings has not contributed enough to outweigh his frequent frailties when called upon to don the gauntlets. It is when keeping wicket that his most significant moments of World Cup 2007 might well arise. A plethora of dropped chances or missed stumpings could have far-reaching consequences. On the other hand, if the catches are held and the runs flow, Pakistan will benefit.

Mohammad Yousuf

The middle element of arguably the most talented middle order in One Day International cricket is not renowned as a flamboyant player; rather he is an extremely adept accumulator using what many consider to be 'old-fashioned' orthodox techniques. A round dozen one-day tons are scant reward for such a prodigious talent, but his record-breaking form in the longer version of the game indicates that there is much more in the locker. He is seen almost universally as captain-elect, ready to step into Inzamam-ul-Haq's boots when the big man decides it's time to hang them up.

Strengths

In years gone by, Pakistan have traditionally been seen as one of, if not the strongest side with the new ball in one-day cricket, but the achievements of Waqar and Wasim are now distant memories. Recent events have conspired to deprive them of their latter-day spearhead, but in reality Pakistan have seldom threatened to bowl sides out of late. Afridi's leg-spin is a huge plus, both in terms of economy and taking wickets, but it is the top six in the batting order that accommodates the majority of the match-winners.

Pakistan's greatest strength, though, might well be the 'Millwall Factor', a sense of collective injustice that pulls them together into a cohesive force against all the odds.

Weaknesses

Pakistan in the field are one of the least athletic sides that world cricket has witnessed in recent years, but it is far from their only weakness. In Kamran Akmal they have a wicketkeeper who can spurn the simplest chance - especially when he has time to think about it - and there is no natural backup glove man in the squad.

Pakistan's greatest strength over the last 15-20 years has been the balance of the side - a mix of swashbuckling batters, grafters, a high quality spin department and one, usually two, searing pacers. Although Mohammad Sami has been known to fire the odd rocket down, his better days have been as the foil to a firing-on-all-cylinders Shoaib Akhtar. The lack of a real talismanic spearhead leaves the attack looking decidedly threadbare.

Factors on the periphery of the game, coupled with how the side's reaction to them affects the often-temperamental Pakistanis, might well prove to be the biggest weakness of all though - on the other hand, it might not. See 'Strengths'.

Previous World Cups

A succession of semi-final defeats during the early years of the competition was followed by victory in Australia in 1992 when Imran Khan led Pakistan to a 22-run win in the final against perennial bridesmaids England. They reached the final again in 1999 but on this occasion were well beaten by an Australia side who were just beginning to dominate the shorter version of the game, although the result the world remembers from that competition was an ignominious defeat at the hands of lowly Bangladesh that caused tongues to wag. The last World Cup saw the weather intervene to wash out Pakistan's 'Group of Death' game against Zimbabwe in Bulowayo, a non-result that saw the Africans progress.

1975 - Group Stage
1979 - Semi-Finalists - lost to West Indies
1983 - Semi-Finalists - lost to West Indies
1987 - Semi-Finalists - lost to Australia
1992 - Winners
1996 - Quarter-Finalists - lost to India
1999 - Finalists - lost to Australia
2003 - Group Stage

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Pakistan World Cup Squad
Inzamam-ul-Haq (captain), Younis Khan, Azhar Mahmood, Danish Kaneria, Iftikhar Anjum, Imran Nazir, Kamran Akmal (wicketkeeper), Mohammad Hafeez, Mohammad Sami, Mohammad Yousuf, Naved-ul-Hasan, Shahid Afridi, Shoaib Malik, Umar Gul, Yasir Arafat

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