ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / News
Kenya v Pakistan, World Cup 2011, Hambantota
Pakistan make a statement
February 23, 2011
An entirely different proposition awaits Pakistan on Saturday but given how poorly they often start big tournaments, the comprehensive thumping of Kenya is likely to have pleased the team management more than they will let on.
The only slip was the stilted start to their innings, on a pitch which did a little more than expected. But four middle-order fifties, a successful implementation of their trademark ODI batting plan (build first, blast later), the captain's five-fer and some lively fielding made for an unexpectedly smooth start. The selection of Abdur Rehman over Saeed Ajmal, or even Wahab Riaz seemed puzzlingly defensive - Ajmal and Riaz are wicket-takers and they will need them in this campaign - but Pakistan maintained the intensity in the field they had shown in a quite electric practice session on Monday.
Then the younger men in particular had thrown themselves into fielding practice, yapping away, diving and leaping around, hitting stumps, taking good catches. Keeping things at that pitch was Waqar Younis, the coach himself, screaming for catches to be taken as if they were off his own bowling, throwing gloves down in disgust at misfields, not putting up with slackers, taking time out for fresh faces and generally making sure things ran precisely to plan.
It is what Pakistan's demanding followers say they always want, even if in defeat: spirit, fight, passion and energy. "The way we practiced, we were very focused and positive and what we do there, we deliver in the games as well," Shahid Afridi said. "We try to focus on practice sessions and don't waste our time. The coaches are doing a great job with the fast bowlers and the senior players are helping the young batsmen."
So, despite having 300-plus to defend, Afridi insisted the team go out and defend much less. "We wanted to make a big total and when we went in, I told the team that we are defending 120, we need to fight like we are defending 120, because tough matches lie ahead."
In those tough matches the middle order will not be allowed to rebuild as freely as they did here if the start is squandered. The concern over Ahmed Shehzad and Mohammad Hafeez's contributions were not so much with the score as the tentative manner in which they came: the former made a single from 18 balls.
The pair has been in good form recently, scoring fluently so the sudden, sharp dip and the nature of it concerned Afridi as well. "Whether in batting or bowling you need a positive start always," he said. "The ball was sticking to the pitch a little, so it wasn't so easy but we need to stick to our strengths and play positively. The start is always important and I'm confident our openers will not repeat these mistakes. Shehzad and Hafeez are positive players so hopefully they will change their style in the next game."
Good starts guarantee nothing of course and nobody forgets that Pakistan's two world titles have come when campaigns have stuttered at the beginning. Nevertheless in a week in which several big sides have made statements against associate nations, Pakistan have put in their own. "Definitely it emphasises that we are a dangerous team. It's a good start but we shouldn't be 100% satisfied because there is a lot of work ahead of us still."