World Cup 2007: The campaign begins
Darrel Hair: resolved. New PCB chairman: mixed start but we have hope. Captaincy crisis: Inzamam a clear favourite for the World Cup, just a final confirmation required from the PCB. Drugs scandal: settled for now, though a further twist is possible but improbable. That must mean we might dare to focus on the cricket?
Pakistan begin their 2007 World Cup campaign in earnest tomorrow. This is clearly the squad of players that the Pakistan management will gamble their futures and their burning effigies on. Throw in Shoaib and Asif when match fit, and Shahid Afridi when he is back in the groove (I've said my piece on 'Boom Boom' already) and you have the extent of Pakistan's talents.
This is bad news for anybody expecting a new star to emerge like Inzamam did just before the 1992 World Cup but it is good news for people arguing for a period of stability. And there is much going for that particular argument. Think back to the middle of the one-day series in England. Pakistan were being lauded from hill and dale as the perfect combination to lift the next World Cup. A few minor inconveniences later and Pakistan are still very much the same team. Could they do it after all this? It would make an incredible story.
But Pakistan's one-day form has hit the buffers since that English praise undid the players. There are mitigating circumstances. England in September wasn't the best place to build a batsman's confidence, and more surprisingly neither was India in October. South Africa may be misleading too, hence this series offers the closest approximation to likely conditions in the Caribbean, minus the cool beers and the hot tubs.
This series matters. Several players, bowlers in particular, will be fighting for a World Cup berth.
But despite the one-day failures there are some positives. First, Umar Gul has grown in stature as a front-line bowler over the past few months. He began the England series as one of a handful of hopeful third-seamers (Shoaib and Asif being numbers one and two). He begins this one day series as the clear number three with potential to rise up the pecking order, a fast-medium bowler who can carry an attack. Second, Mohammad Hafeez looks increasingly to have solved one half of Pakistan's opening problem (Imran Farhat continues to fill me with dread though).
These are important additions to the "perfect combination." Despite the hell that Pakistan cricket and its supporters have lived through over the past few months, the next World Cup offers a fabulous opportunity. Inzamam wants to emulate Imran. The campaign begins here, and it needs to begin with the swagger of title contenders.
Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here