Pakistan on firm ground
A one-day tournament so soon after the ICC Champions Trophy probably won't excite many, but all three teams will have a point to prove when the Paktel Cup starts in Multan tomorrow, when Pakistan take on Zimbabwe. The peculiar tournament schedule means that the third team in the fray, Sri Lanka, don't play a game until next Wednesday (October 6), but then will probably end up playing five matches in a row over 11 days.
Going into the competition, Pakistan are probably the favourites. Since Bob Woolmer took over, there has been a noticeable change in attitude, and it has shown in the results as well - they reached the finals of the tri-nation tournament in Holland, eventually losing narrowly to Australia, and then beat India in the Champions Trophy. They're still a work-in-progress side - the spineless collapse against West Indies in the Champions Trophy semi-final was a throwback to their old, erratic ways - but there have been enough positives of late to suggest that this might be a side which could realise its potential.
There's much at stake for Pakistan here. As the home team, there will be immense pressure on Inzamam-ul-Haq and the rest of the team, and any result other than a win in the final will be taken as a failure. Especially after the fiasco at the toss at the Rose Bowl against West Indies, a decision which still hasn't been explained satisfactorily by the captain or the coach.
Pakistan's only realistic threat in the tournament comes from Sri Lanka, who have won 16 of their last 18 one-day internationals. That is a slightly misleading stat, though - five of those wins came against a second-string Zimbabwe - but their annihilation of South Africa in the five-match series was impressive, all the more so because Muttiah Muralitharan didn't figure in any of those games.
Murali will no doubt be missed - by both the Sri Lankan team and the spectators - but if the series against South Africa was anything to go by, the team is gradually learning to win without him. This series should be a good opportunity to give an extended run to Dilhara Fernando, who has finally regained full fitness after a string of back injuries. And in conditions that should be excellent for batting, expect the likes of Jayasuriya, Atapattu, Sangakkara and Jayawardene to come into their own.
What of the Zimbabweans? No-one expects them to pull off a win, or even come close. Tatenda Taibu and his band have been game tryers, but it's hard to see them being anything other than target practice for the big boys. Zimbabwe do get four games, though, in which to show the world that they can compete at the highest level. The tournament hasn't yet begun, but come October 16 it's easy to imagine Inzamam and Atapattu walking out for the toss in the final. Anything else will require a major miracle ... or two.
Pakistan Yasir Hameed, Salman Butt, Shoaib Malik, Inzamam-ul-Haq (capt), Yousuf Youhana, Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq, Bazid Khan, Abdul Razzaq, Moin Khan (wk), Shahid Afridi, Naved-ul-Hasan, Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammad Sami, Iftikhar Anjum.
Sri Lanka Marvan Atapattu (capt), Sanath Jayasuriya, Kumar Sangakkara (wk), Mahela Jayawardene, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Saman Jayantha, Avishka Gunawardene, Farveez Maharoof, Chaminda Vaas, Upul Chandana, Nuwan Zoysa, Dilhara Fernando, Thilina Kandamby, Rangana Herath, Kaushal Lokuarachchi.
Zimbabwe Brendan Taylor, Vusi Sibanda, Stuart Matsikenyeri, Mark Vermeulen, Dion Ebrahim, Tatenda Taibu (capt & wk), Elton Chigumbura, Douglas Hondo, Alester Maregwede, Tawanda Mupariwa, Mluleki Nkala, Tinashe Panyangara, Edward Rainsford, Prosper Utseya, Graeme Cremer.