Hamstrung Pakistan ready to do battle
By the time you read this, more turbulence might have engulfed the Pakistan team and their crucial opening game of the Champions Trophy, against Sri Lanka at Jaipur, may end up as a mere footnote. Such is their combustibility levels that it seems to be only a matter of time before another fire ignites around Pakistan cricket. What's unique about the team, though, is that happenings off the field seem to rarely worry them and they invariably discover additional mental steel when expected to crack.
Interestingly Pakistan were bystanders in the last major instance when a player was withdrawn from a tournament for testing positive for banned substances. News of Shane Warne's diuretic travails broke just a few hours before Australia's World Cup opener against Pakistan at Johannesburg and, with a couple of players ruled out with injury, not many gave them a chance. Few hours into the game and a whirlwind hundred from Andrew Symonds had set the tone for one of the most emphatic World Cup triumphs ever.
Pakistan will need to find similar inspiration. As things stand at the moment, they have 12 players to choose from for tomorrow's game, if you discount Waqar Younis, the bowling coach, and Rameez Raja, the former opening batsman who's here as a commentator. They're already without their first-choice captain - who's also been their most influential player in recent times; two of their premier fast bowlers, who in all probability might have shared the new ball, would have might have already reached home before the toss; and the concern over the openers continues. Up against them will be an upbeat Sri Lankan side that's been steamrolling opponents over the last few months, including rolling West Indies over for 80 three days' back.
Mahela Jaywardene, though expressing disappointment at the turn of events, was taking nothing lightly. "At times when teams have such problems they come hard at you, and we have played Pakistan quite a few times to realise that and we are taking the game as important for us as it was yesterday," he said on the even of the game. "I don't know the whole extent of the events, but it's disappointing. We haven't played against Shoaib for quite some time because he was injured. We wanted to take that challenge and see how we can come about it. So from a cricketing point of view, it's bit disappointing."
Sri Lanka start off red-hot favourites. The pitch - the same one where Dwayne Bravo and Corey Collymore nipped and tucked - will be to their bowlers' liking. If they end up bowling second, with the pitch tending to get slow and low, their spinners will be more than a handful. They've reeled off three emphatic wins and the manner in which they mauled West Indies wouldn't be lost on Pakistan, who're bound to be rusty without much cricket.
"You can see it as a disadvantage and also as an advantage," said Bob Woolmer, the Pakistan coach, when asked about lack of match practice. "We'll be fresh and ready to go. Sri Lanka will be traveling, playing on different surfaces and need to get used to this. You can see it as a glass half full or half empty. I'll like to see it as a glass half full."
Considering the events of the last 24 hours, one can probably also see it as a glass ready to shatter. Towards the end of the press conference, Younis couldn't but smile when a reporter mistakenly addressed him as Yousuf. It was no doubt funny but in its own way it encapsulated the uncertainty that surrounds Pakistan. When unsure about the next step, might as well laugh.
Pakistan 1 Imran Farhat, 2 Mohammad Hafeez, 3 Shoaib Malik, 4 Mohammad Yousuf, 5 Younis Khan (capt), 6 Shahid Afridi, 7 Abdul Razzaq, 8 Kamran Akmal (wk), 9 Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, 10 Rao Iftikhar Anjum, 11 Umar Gul
Sri Lanka 1 Upul Tharanga, 2 Sanath Jayasuriya, 3 Mahela Jayawardene (capt), 4 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 5 Marvan Atapattu, 6 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 7 Farveez Maharoof, 8 Chaminda Vaas, 9 Muttiah Muralitharan, 10 Lasith Malinga, 11 Dilhara Fernando.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo