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Pakistan's performance today was of a team with nothing to fight for. It was the kind of effort--a complacent one--you might have feared the day after the World Cup squad is announced not two days before it. The batsmen played with a bizarre timidity and lack of application that left the bowlers nothing to defend. The pitch was not the minefield that Pakistan seemed to be imagining it to be. Of course, South Africa bowled and fielded magnificently but that is the kind of fielding effort that needs to be overcome to win the World Cup.
If Pakistan's selectors were seeking some kind of signal as to what to do they didn't get it. Instead, what is clear is that with a month to go before the World Cup, Pakistan have problems. And the main one is this: while Pakistan teams are known for their unpredictability, the performance of this group of players fluctuates so wildly that it is hard to imagine how they could put together a consistent enough run to lift the trophy. Wind back to 1992 or 1999 and Pakistan teams might have come a cropper here and there leading up to the World Cup but they were able to put together sequences of victories that made them genuine challengers.
One reason for this current pattern though is the dramatic variation in personnel through injury. Any success that Woolmer and Inzy have had was forged through consistency of selection but this South African tour has been a joke with players shuttling between South Africa and Pakistan as if it were a commuter trip.
What to do? Well some players pick themselves. The middle order of Inzy, Yousuf, and Younis is set in stone. Kamran Akmal has to be persevered with, it's too late to change now--and the strategy of him opening could be a spectacular triumph in the Caribbean. Mohammad Asif, Shoaib Akhtar and Umar Gul are the first line of pace attack. Of the all rounders Shoaib Malik, Abdul Razzaq, and Shahid Afridi are the late-order attackers that Pakistan's strategy hinges on.
That leaves five places to discuss amid the consideration that West Indian pitches will smell like the sweet grass of home to Pakistan's players. On that basis, I'd back Imran Nazir and Mohammad Hafeez as two of three possible openers (along with Kamran Akmal). The pace attack will need back up, which means Sami, Rana, and Azhar fighting for two places. I'd go for Sami's extra pace and Azhar's all round ability. That leaves one place for a spinner and despite today's outing, Abdur Rehman showed enough in the home series against West Indies to win the spot.
There might be a case for others like Salman Butt, Yasir Hameed, Yasir Arafat, and Danish Kaneria but if they are real contenders they should have been out here getting ready.
If this squad of players is fit and Pakistan can gel, they have a chance. Nobody, though, expected this level of unpredictability so close to the World Cup. But when it comes to Pakistan cricket, the next tournament can be a very different story. It needs to be.
(And yes, squads and XIs are allowed on this thread).
Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets hereFeeds: Kamran Abbasi
© ESPN EMEA Ltd.
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Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He was the first Asian columnist for Wisden Cricket Monthly and wisden.com. Kamran is the editor of the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. @KamranAbbasi