ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / News

World Cup 2011

Battle-hardened Afridi the lynchpin

Saad Shafqat

February 15, 2011

Comments: 67 | Text size: A | A

Pakistan are coming to the World Cup on a turbulent trajectory. One of the original hosts, they were stripped of those rights following the terror attack in Lahore last year. In addition, the team has been hobbling from a series of mishaps, the latest and potentially most damaging of which is the spot-fixing scandal that has resulted in lengthy bans against three vital players. This turmoil makes the opening clash against Kenya an almost ideal start for them, offering a chance to settle jitters against an unrated opponent.

Fortunately for Pakistan, their cricket has gathered some momentum through the current season: two drawn Tests and a narrowly conceded five-match ODI series against South Africa, followed by decisive Test and ODI series wins in New Zealand that represent Pakistan's first serious overseas accomplishment in half a decade.

They are a team in transition, with seasoned veterans such as Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq, and Abdul Razzaq, as well as bright young talent - players like Umar Akmal and Asad Shafiq. In Shahid Afridi they have an experienced and battle-hardened leader. Nevertheless, a brittle batting line-up and inconsistent fielding - Pakistan's traditional weaknesses - continue to plague the team. The opening pair hasn't been settled in years, and we can expect to see rotation in those slots, especially if there is an early loss or two.

Bowling is usually Pakistan's strongest asset, but they are missing two world-class seamers, Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif, who have been sidelined by the spot-fixing mess. Umar Gul will spearhead the attack and should have capable back-up in the form of newcomer Wahab Riaz, although the third seamer's role expected to be variably served by Razzaq, Shoaib Akhtar or the unknown Junaid Khan is a potential weak link that will have to be offset by the trusted legspin-offspin combination of Afridi and Saeed Ajmal.

World Cup pedigree
Pakistan's previous World Cup finishes include three semi-finals, a final and a title, but those are distant memories. Their last two appearances were both preliminary-round exits, and the 2007 outing, especially, was a nightmare, when Ireland beat them and their coach, Bob Woolmer, was found dead the next morning. Even the 1999 World Cup, when they did very well and made the final, is a bitter memory because of the way the team eventually capitulated to Australia. And 1996, too, left an acrid taste after a quarter-final loss to arch-rivals India. You really have to go back to 1992 to find a World Cup tournament that resonates with Pakistani fans.

Recent form
For most of 2010, Pakistan had a dismal win-loss ratio placing them at the bottom of the international pile, worse even than Zimbabwe. They began the year with a 0-5 drubbing at the hands of Australia, followed by two key defeats (to India and Sri Lanka) in the Asia Cup in June. Later in the year, however, they picked themselves up. Although two subsequent encounters (against England and South Africa) were lost, Pakistan were able to push each series to a fifth-game decider, before finally notching a 3-2 series win in New Zealand. Their win-loss ratio over the last 12 months now places them sixth, ahead of West Indies, New Zealand, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.

Expert eye
Javed Miandad: Pakistan are a talented team fully capable of pulling off a surprise. In the 2011 format, a team only has to edge past the bottom three in its group and they are in the quarter-final, from where it is just three straight wins to the title. Any of the eight frontline teams can win this one.

Where they're likely to finish
Given Pakistan's well-earned reputation for volatility, they are an interesting bet for this tournament. It goes in their favour that the World Cup often goes to a team who start out as dark horses. On paper you would expect them to get past the group stage but succumb in the quarters to lack of confidence and the wild card of controversy. But Pakistan have a history of firing best when cornered, so anything can happen. Only a fool would rule them out.

Watchability
The brand of cricket played by Pakistan is nothing if not exciting. Their onslaughts can be murderous and their rearguards stirring. Even their collapses and surrenders are spectacular. This is a team that offers the cricket enthusiast potentially everything, from established crowd-pullers to thrilling young blood, from delight and elation to tragedy and pathos, in a package liberally spiced with scandal and gossip.

Key stats
Umar Akmal and Shahid Afridi have been the side's leading batsmen since December 2009. Afridi scored two centuries in the Asia Cup, including a superb 109 off 76 balls in a defeat against Sri Lanka; Saeed Ajmal (17 wickets) and Afridi (19) have been the best bowlers in that period. Umar Gul was in superb form last summer in England, picking up 12 wickets in the five matches, and is by far Pakistan's best limited-overs pace bowler.

Players in focus
For a player of his limited-overs stature and with his nose for the big moment, Shahid Afridi is long overdue a World Cup mega-performance. In 2009, when Pakistan took the World Twenty20 title in England, it was on the strength of his feats. An ambitious man conscious of honours and awards, he will be keen to add World Cup glory to this legacy. Now that he is captain the stakes are that much higher. He is Pakistan's lynchpin, and if he finds form, everybody better watch out. The subcontinental conditions will certainly suit him.

When Umar Akmal gets going, he evokes comparison with hallowed names. With a superb eye and a gift for timing, he is a breathtaking talent. Although his natural impetuosity has rendered him an underachiever in Tests, the same quality is a potential asset in ODIs. He can be particularly skilled at exploiting Powerplays, and his presence adds great pep to Pakistan's batting. The only real drawback is his tendency to throw his wicket away; not quite as bad as with Afridi, but it's there. If he can somehow discover his powers of concentration and curb this self-destructive instinct, Pakistan will be formidable.

Umar Gul is the best bowler in Pakistan's attack, and will shoulder the responsibility for early breakthroughs as well the death overs. He has the pace, precision and experience to prove decisive in both segments. Although a proven match-winner, he is prone to injury - more than is usual for fast bowlers. His fitness is probably going to be Pakistan's biggest worry. Perhaps his most effective weapon is his ability to hold his nerve. He may stare and glare and get into verbal jousts, but in the pure contest between bat and ball, don't expect him to blink first.

Saad Shafqat is a writer based in Karachi

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Comments: 67 
Posted by harshthakor on (February 17, 2011, 19:26 GMT)

Personally,I would back Pakistan to win this cup not because of their team strength but because they are great in pulling back from times of adversity.Look at the number of times Pakistan have ressurected themselvesfrom the grave.With Australia and South Africa I give Pakistan the best chance.We could well have an Australia -Pakistan or South Africa-Pakistan final.India ,is the best team on paper and on recent playing record but will face too much pressure bearing the tag of favouritism .India is also plagued with injuries.

Posted by harshthakor on (February 17, 2011, 19:20 GMT)

Let us never underestimate Pakistan who can rise like a phoenix from the Ashes like in 1992.They have great batting depth upto nos. 6,7 and 8 ,with batsman like Abdur Razzaq ,Shahid Afridi and Umar Akmal and a great batsman in Younus Khan.On his day Shoaib Akhtar's express pace is devastating.In recent months they have revealed exempelary courage and resilience in distressed times conquering New Zealand away as well as giving strong English and South African taems a run for their money.Infact in both the 5 game series against England and South Africa the result of the series was open till the last game.,with Pakistan clinching wins from the brink of defeat.Afridia and Razzak are match-winners and Pakistan will be dangerous when they are chasing.They are the dark horses and who knows they may well ressurect themselves like a tiger coming out of the woods and capture the crown!

Posted by you4u on (February 17, 2011, 8:13 GMT)

I am a pakistani. India offcourse a great team and on cards, this is the team who will win the WC. but actually format of world cup is allowing all top 8 teams to lift the world cup. These are only three matches. In subcontinent you know pitches specially in the india if you won the toss, and win 75 % game already. Never know who win the three succesive toss. batting and fielding clicks and lift the trophy. So in mind all 8 teams are favourite even westindies. Just remember 1996 for them....

Posted by   on (February 17, 2011, 7:18 GMT)

Well...I think Pakistan have less pressure then previous World cup because they have nothing to lose. Pakistan have so many problems in recent times so every Pakistani just want to give support to team.Win or lose is doesn't matter but we want this team to fight hard in the field and gave 100%. Afridi we all known as a aggressive person so his captaining the team as a fighter. INSHALLAH Pakistan will be the part of semi finals.

Posted by   on (February 17, 2011, 5:56 GMT)

@CricFan108: does wanting to win in India show our hatred for India? interesting reasoning :D In my opinion it merely means that since the final is at wankhede, winning the trophy means winning in wankhede--> India

Posted by Karthik_1982 on (February 16, 2011, 20:57 GMT)

Even though I am an Indian; I love the Pak team. With Kamran, Shezad, Younis, Mishab, Afridi, Umar, Razzak, Gul, Ajmal, Akhtar, Wahab --> how can this team can't win the WC. As long as they dont meet India, I pray for this team to win.

Posted by Class-Apart on (February 16, 2011, 20:46 GMT)

semi final is the best we pakistani can hope for.

Posted by Desihungama on (February 16, 2011, 18:48 GMT)

@CricFan108 - Sorry for that. Ignorant beings are all around us.

Posted by Vilander on (February 16, 2011, 17:05 GMT)

fanatics

Posted by Vilander on (February 16, 2011, 17:00 GMT)

guys its just a game, we get to be nice and friendly here, so best of luck to the pak team.

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