ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / News
New Zealand v Pakistan, Group A, World Cup 2011, Pallekele
Afridi says Umar is fit and will play
March 13, 2011
Pakistan may be keen to stick to as stable an XI as possible as they go through the group stages of this tournament, but it doesn't seem likely they will be able to do so. They take on Zimbabwe in a potentially tricky encounter, in a vital game in Pallekele, knowing that a win will ensure a quarter-final berth for them.
But in the aftermath of last week's loss to New Zealand, their preparations have been hampered by a re-enactment of the Akmal brothers saga, seen for the first time in Australia early last year. The younger, Umar, injured his finger in fielding practice forcing him to sit out practice over the last couple of days. It also ruled him out as a replacement for Kamran as wicketkeeper, an option that was being considered in light of Kamran's costly, error-ridden hand against New Zealand.
The team was forced to deny that Umar was faking his injury in order to keep Kamran in the side, a situation that reportedly occurred - with a twist - after the Sydney Test last year. The uncertainty over Umar's availability has only deepened over the last two days. There is no fracture in his right index finger but he hasn't batted and he only began fielding on Sunday. To complicate matters further, he took a knock on his left ankle during a session of football on Sunday morning, though that isn't thought to be serious.
Shahid Afridi sounded confident about Umar's availability, though noises from the rest of the camp are not as positive. If Umar does not play, Asad Shafiq is likely to be the replacement. "Umar is fit, it is a light injury," Afridi said. "He was fielding just now and looking better. He is fine and definitely inshallah he will play tomorrow."
All the confusion makes one thing clear: Kamran will be in, for lack of a credible alternative if nothing else. All week the team has made reassuring noises about his wicketkeeping, about how hard he has worked and trained.
"His performance in batting hasn't been bad but yes he is struggling with his keeping," Afridi said. "But he is working very hard, you've seen it. We also haven't got such an option in the squad to whom we can give a chance in this tournament. It's been four days, he's working hard, he has support and our confidence, he is a better choice. I think he knows the mistakes he has committed and he will try to make up for it for sure."
Another change Pakistan are likely to make is to rest Shoaib Akhtar, who gave away 71 runs in his nine overs against New Zealand, and bring in Wahab Riaz.
Afridi is treading that fine line, currently, that all captains must at one point or another: to stick with struggling players and give them confidence in the name of stability, or bring in change for the sake of improvement. The matter is at its most acute with the openers Ahmed Shehzad and Mohammad Hafeez, both of whom have flopped with the bat. He doesn't want to experiment much, but he knows Pakistan can ill-afford more poor starts.
"I'm not trying to experiment as this is not the right time. I am trying to give confidence to everyone. During the competition we are trying to keep the same momentum and team with just one or two changes. At the moment the openers are thinking let's play 15 overs but don't lose wickets but also they are thinking let's play our positive games. I've told them play to your strengths, like you play in domestic cricket, play like that.
"Over the last couple of days they've worked really hard and the coaches have worked hard with them as well. I am confident they will perform."
Pakistan were unconvincing in the win against Canada in Colombo and fell apart against New Zealand, so Afridi hoped that they can get their campaign back on track. "We learnt a lot from that loss because we didn't perform well in the field, with the ball or bat. We should be more focused on the way we are going to start with the bat, the way we bowl with the new ball. We need the kind of good start we got against Sri Lanka. We'll try to put a decent total on the board and defend it and get them out as soon as possible."
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Plays of the Day from second ODI between South Africa and Pakistan, in Port Elizabeth
Plays of the Day from the third ODI between India and West Indies, in Kanpur