ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / News
Australia v Pakistan, Group A, World cup 2011, Colombo
Pakistan keep focus amid Shoaib retirement
March 18, 2011
Even in his departure - perhaps especially in it - Shoaib Akhtar can't help but be the centre of attention. Before Thursday, Pakistan's game against Australia was all about Pakistan's game against Australia: who will top the group, will Pakistan change their opening partnership, will they be able to handle Australia's pace, will history play a role in Pakistan breaking Australia's unbeaten streak, given that they remain the last side to beat them in a World Cup match (at Headingley in the previous century, 1999)?
All this remains relevant but also irrelevant because the answer most people want is whether or not Shoaib will get a chance to play another game in this tournament. He was dropped - not rested - for the game against Zimbabwe and the concerns about his fitness, retirement or not, remain. Shahid Afridi rarely reveals his hand publicly and he seemed in a particular hurry today, so the question remained, essentially, unanswered.
On fitness, on a guarantee of ten overs and younger legs in the field, Wahab Riaz retains his place in the XI from the last game. On emotion - and the management is not particularly keen to let that get in the way - and the believable prospect of a game-changing over or two, Shoaib might sneak in. If Afridi was leaning anywhere between ruling him in and ruling him out, it appeared to be towards the latter. Maybe: "As for future games, let's look at the combination. If he is needed we will definitely use him," was all he would say.
The announcement dominated proceedings. Was this the right time for him to go? "I don't think it is bad timing. Maybe he could have decided after the World Cup but it's up to him," Afridi replied, still non-committal. Was there any friction behind the decision? "I don't think so. He never said anything about being upset or anything. I think he is enjoying himself if he is playing or even if he isn't playing." Was it a good decision? "I think he took the right decision. It was his own decision. Because of his bowling Pakistan won quite a few matches. He has set a good example because in Pakistan normally the selector kicks you out, you don't leave yourself."
In truth, Afridi is right to be blasé about the matter. He, and Pakistan's campaign, cannot be distracted by this, though chances are he is not anyway. He is not a man to dwell on matters too much. And there are other issues of personnel to be resolved, prime among them Ahmed Shehzad. He has been backed unconditionally through five games, which have fetched 51 runs, and worse, some careless dismissals. Do they give him one more game, in the hope he might do something, or should they show some ruthlessness and dump him now?
"Maybe we'll do some changing in the opening," was Afridi's typically concise response. They at least have options now. Asad Shafiq's assured World Cup debut against Zimbabwe - "He did well so he should be in shouldn't he? Definitely he will play next game" - means he remains in the XI. Kamran Akmal can thus resume a promising opening partnership with Mohammad Hafeez - "We can [use Kamran as opener], definitely we can do it" - and Umar Akmal is fit and available for selection again.
Without changing the bent or balance of the XI, Pakistan can make a key personnel change, which is precisely the situation they want to be in. And it leaves them with three spinning options as well. They don't want, as Afridi said, to be experimenting right now.
All that leaves the minor matter of Australia, a team untested and not as ominous as it once was, but a team nonetheless calibrated simply and clearly to win matches. Beat them and maybe top the group, potentially drawing a less difficult quarter-final. Lose and face the top teams from the other group. Ultimately, the best sides will have to be beaten at some stage or another.
"They are a very professional side and they know how to use these conditions as well. They are very strong mentally and physically," Afridi said. "But we know our strength as well, we know how to tackle and deal with these guys, so we are well-prepared. We've made some plans against them and you will see tomorrow in the game we will do something new."