ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / News
Kenya v Pakistan, World Cup 2011, Hambantota
Pakistan look for flexibility in batting order
February 22, 2011
The emergence of Ahmed Shehzad has settled down Pakistan's opening partnership for the near future, but it has complicated matters for the rest of the batting order. Shehzad partnered Mohammad Hafeez at the top in the ODI series win over New Zealand coming into the World Cup. Both players had successful series, notching up a maiden century each but didn't put on a significant partnership in any of the five games they batted together.
Shehzad's return has meant Kamran Akmal moving down one spot to No. 3 in the order. But Akmal and Hafeez formed a successful partnership in the ODI series against England last September and would, in all likelihood, have been the first-choice pair here had it not been for Akmal's brief exile from the side in between. That absence allowed Shehzad to return to the side for the first time since 2009, an opportunity he has fully utilised.
Hafeez has also been a stabilising influence since his own return to the ODI set-up last summer, averaging 35.73 in 16 ODIs since then, with a hundred and three fifties. He has also turned in useful spells of offspin, picking up 11 wickets. Hafeez and Shehzad will start as the opening pair but the pushing down of Akmal and the return of Misbah-ul-Haq in a middle order that also includes Younis Khan often resulted in Pakistan not gathering enough momentum in the middle overs of an innings.
Pakistan are keen on keeping both Younis and Misbah in the XI as insurance against collapses. But batting them at four and five as happened in New Zealand has meant that Umar Akmal, potentially Pakistan's best batsman in the format, has come in with too few overs left to have an impact. It is an issue that will require flexibility, said Pakistan's captain Shahid Afridi ahead of their tournament opener against Kenya.
"If we lose the first wicket early, then Kamran, who has been an attacking batsman and has opened, comes in so we will have advantage with him and fielders in the circle," Afridi said. "After that it will depend on how many overs we have so Umar can come after Younis. We don't want Misbah and Younis batting together so that we can keep momentum and the scoreboard ticking."
Pakistan also look set to include Shoaib Akhtar in the line-up for Wednesday, despite concerns over his match fitness; only yesterday coach Waqar Younis said Shoaib was improving but not fully fit just yet. That means Saeed Ajmal is likely to miss out as Pakistan open up with three fast bowlers. Junaid Khan, the late call-up who impressed in a warm-up game against England in Dhaka and has experience of Hambantota, will also probably sit out. Irrespective of the opponent, Afridi said, Pakistan will be at full strength.
"I don't think it's an easier game for us," he said. "The first game is always very important for us. There are a number of examples where big teams have lost so we want to be at full strength."
Pakistan chose not to train on Tuesday, having arrived in Hambantota on Monday and undergone a distinctly energetic and enthusiastic practice session soon after arriving. Afridi acknowledged there was more attention on off-field issues surrounding the side but maintained that a semi-final place was a realistic target. "I take that as challenge that no one is considering us for the semi-final. I want to see my team in the semi-finals."