Pakistan v West Indies, Champions Trophy, Group A, Johannesburg September 23, 2009

Young guns impress Alam

Intikhab Alam, the Pakistan coach, praised the younger members of his side for pulling Pakistan out of a potentially sticky situation against West Indies and ensuring they got their Champions Trophy campaign off to a winning start. Man of the match Umar Akmal, with a little help from stand-in captain Shahid Afridi, eventually guided Pakistan home in their 134-run chase with an accomplished, unbeaten 41.

The 19-year-old Akmal had seen his team slide to 76 for 5 at one stage, his senior colleagues gone in a tentative top-order chase. Akmal took time to settle in but once he had, out came the strokeplay that has got his international career off to such a productive start: though only five ODIs old, he averages over 77 with a strike rate over 100. Even a Tino Best beamer that smashed into his finger (the injury is not serious according to Alam) couldn't stop him.

"We expect a great deal from this young man," Alam said. "He's done a great deal in a short amount of time. I have a lot of time for him and he has a great future ahead of him."

Pakistan had Mohammad Aamer to thank for ensuring they chased such a small total in the first place. The 17-year-old took three wickets, including one in the first over of the innings, to plant the seeds of West Indies' collapse. Umar Gul provided important support, picking up three wickets as well.

"Our fast bowlers were very good," Alam said. "I have a lot of time for both. Umar Gul is very committed and did wonders in England. And young Aamer is a very talented player. When we took him to England and we played him straight away in the World Twenty20, you can imagine he bowled the last over against South Africa in the semi-final, you can imagine he must have great ability. He has a great future."

There will be concerns, however, about a rusty-looking top and middle order, especially as stronger bowling attacks lie in wait. The pitch was lively enough, though Pakistan's remaining games, as Alam pointed out, were in Centurion.

"The pitch was difficult also and bowling was good. It was the first match of the season at this ground and that grass will go eventually and there was uneven bounce. It was a good lesson for us.

"I was a little surprised when they elected to bat because we would've bowled. It did a lot. West Indies bowled a really good line, they had a bit of pace and we made it difficult for ourselves too. Now we play at Centurion where the surface will be different."

That will be Pakistan's next game on Saturday, against India and they are hoping to have captain Younis Khan back for that. Younis sustained a hairline fracture on a finger on his right hand in a warm-up game, forcing him to sit out the opening game. There is good news as Younis did hold a bat for the first time since the injury. "He did practice this afternoon for an hour," Alam said. "He felt okay and I am sure he will play in the next match."

If not, Afridi will remain captain and that, Alam noted, is no bad thing. This was Afridi's first ODI as captain, adding to the T20I win under his leadership against Sri Lanka last month, "I was impressed with him today. He showed a responsibility and maturity in his play and that is why he was made captain for T20s. I thought it was a very good decision."

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

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