World Cup 2011 March 22, 2011

Progress is a bonus

A wonder of this World Cup is that all the expected teams have qualified for the knock-out stage but the tournament has still been thoroughly exciting

A wonder of this World Cup is that all the expected teams have qualified for the knock-out stage but the tournament has still been thoroughly exciting. The so-called minnows must take great credit for ensuring that the first phase was competitive. Now, the remaining nations are close enough together in ability to ensure that this is the most open World Cup since 1999. Hence both Pakistan and West Indies will believe that with some luck the trophy is within grasp.

Of the two, Pakistan have had the better tournament, registering wins over Sri Lanka and Australia while the West Indies are yet to bring down a major power. That probably doesn't count for much except it is better for a team to be running into form at this stage rather than struggling to find or retain it. As a result West Indies don't seem entirely sure about their best combination or strategy, and are yet to put together a meaningful run.

On that basis, Pakistan will start as favourites in their quarter-final clash in Mirpur. Not that they should see that as a burden. Pakistan entered this competition with low expectations, and their performances have already exceeded those downbeat predictions. Anything the players achieve from here on in is a bonus. The mere fact that Pakistan have become serious challengers is a minor triumph.

West Indies are a dangerous team with the hitting power of Chris Gayle and Kieron Pollard and the bowling threat of Kemar Roach--they are not to be taken lightly or complacently. I don't expect Pakistan to underestimate them, even though if you were to pick your quarter-final opponents it would be a straight choice between the West Indies and New Zealand.

Other than individual West Indian brilliance, Pakistan's greatest threats lie in their own erratic form and the prospect of chasing a decent total under lights. When Pakistan fans tune in to the match build-up and discover that their team has won the toss and is batting first, they may experience the first twinges of expectant hysteria and the tingling prospect of a semi-final spot.

Batting second will be an unnerving experience, however, just as it proved against India in the 1996 World Cup quarter-final. Waqar Younis, the current coach, will remember that day with pain. When Aamer Sohail threw the ball to him, the world expected an exemplar in toe-crushing death bowling. Instead Ajay Jadeja battered Waqar to reach a total that was beyond a bright and emotional start by Sohail and Saeed Anwar.

In terms of strategy, Pakistan's only serious consideration looks to be whether or not to introduce Saeed Ajmal? Despite the ongoing debate over selection it would be hard to imagine a change to the bowlers who dismissed Australia for 176 unless Ajmal, a more attacking spinner and a greater threat to left-handers, replaces Abdul Rehman.

The batting line-up has a neat balance of wise heads and young guns running into form. Important performances by Asad Shafiq and Umar Akmal against Australia will have been crucial for confidence, but they will require players to start firing at the top of the order if they are to go all the way in this World Cup.

As ever, it is Pakistan's bowling that offers most hope. Bowlers from Pakistan, South Africa, and Sri Lanka impressed the most in the group stages, with their teams occupying the top positions. The question now is whether or not those teams will be the ones to progress to the semi-finals?

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