World Cup 2007 March 12, 2007

Only Australia block the road to victory

Pakistan's preparation for the World Cup has been a rollercoaster of hope and despair, a journey that has driven supporters to the edge of madness. Many of you already consider me to be a raving lunatic and to those people I offer further evidence. Pakistan have nobody to fear in this tournament and might just have the mix of experience and hunger to lift the trophy.

Experience resides in the right place, the mighty middle order. Michael Slater questioned their ability to win matches but he is sadly mistaken. This is a double mistake if the pitches continue to play anything like they did in the warm ups. What this trio have lacked is the support of the openers but Caribbean conditions will offer Pakistan a genuine opportunity to establish an opening partnership of substance. Indeed, both Imran Nazir and Mohammad Hafeez will be hungry for success.

Hunger will also drive the bowling attack. Umar Gul, Mohammad Sami, and Danish Kaneria - my first choice attack depending on pitch conditions - have enough experience but also something to prove. There should be nothing stale about Pakistan's bowling attack, with Azhar Mahmood, Shahid Afridi, and Mohammad Hafeez a worthy support cast.

Since Rana Naved-ul Hasan, Iftikhar Rao, and Yasir Arafat have something to offer - death bowling, consistency, or all-round ability - Pakistan have plenty of bowling options. Even in the absence of Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif, it is a bowling attack that can potentially compete with any in the tournament. It also comes with the added bonus of being under-rated by most cricket pundits, an estimate based more on ignorance than sound judgment.

Australia remain the only team that pose a special challenge. Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist, and Andrew Symonds were three good reasons why Australia's form has slumped in recent weeks. Indeed, Symonds offers wonderful balance to the Australian team. If those three fire Australia will be tough to beat, and that's before the possibility of Shaun Tait's speed and reverse swing creating a sensation in this World Cup. Yet, although England and New Zealand wouldn't be my favourites to win, they have done the other leading teams a favour by reminding Australia of their mortality.

Pakistan have arrived with a deceptively strong squad of players, some of whom must make a name for themselves in this tournament just as Inzamam did fifteen years ago. At this moment in time the road to victory looks far less difficult than it might have been. Much hinges, once again, on Inzamam's leadership and all Pakistan supporters will be rooting for him--in Urdu, English, and many different languages--to rise to the occasion. In a few hours time we will get the first indication of whether or not Pakistan have the intent to match their considerable potential. I have a crazy notion that the lunacy of the last six months must have been building to a glorious finale.

Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here