New Zealand v Pakistan, Champions Trophy, semi-final, Jo'burg October 2, 2009

'Good time to give people in Pakistan one more gift' - Younis


Pakistan have around them the air of favourites going into tomorrow's semi-final against New Zealand. That is as scary a proposition for their opponents as it is for their supporters, of course, but there has been something pleasingly coherent about them in the Champions Trophy. And New Zealand, for whom meeting Pakistan in semi-finals is as much an expectation as making it to the stage, are waking up every day to a new injury concern.

As with all good Pakistan runs ever, it is to the bowling that goes much of the praise. For wicket-taking skill, their attack has a depth and incisiveness that few sides here can match. From the very first bursts of the energetic Umar Gul and Mohammad Aamer, to Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, Shahid Afridi and Saeed Ajmal's middle and back to the pacers at the death, right through there is the threat of wickets. Such is the strength that Mohammad Asif might sit out despite an ultimately heartening return. And the always-overlooked, but ever-ready Rao Iftikhar Anjum hasn't even had a look-in.

The dilemma, for Younis Khan, is to shape this force. The surface will force his hand; the Wanderers has generally been kind to bowlers but the surface for the semi-final is the same one as the one on which New Zealand and Sri Lanka pillaged nearly 600 runs. Should Asif stay as part of a four-man attack if the conditions are there, or should the increasingly canny spin of Ajmal be retained? Younis will not decide until he has sussed out the surface, though it is likely, the line-up that took on India will take the field.

"I always try to pick team according to conditions," he said. "Suppose there is a seaming track and I include two-three spinners? So I will see the conditions first. Until then my mind is always open and I need to see what the conditions are. There is competition for places in bowling and batting and that is a healthy sign for Pakistan."

Even the batting has not been as flimsy as the worry often is. It struggled with conditions at Centurion in the last game - as did their opponents. It struggled with conditions at Wanderers against the West Indies. But both times it held firm, for they bat fairly deep. Imran Nazir is likely to be fit again and probably will play; one big, game-changing hand is what Younis believes he can bring to this tournament and it is all he wants. That kind of non-pressure is liberating in its own way, especially for a man like Nazir. He won't mind it in a semi-final.

The captain's own scratchiness is a greater concern. The fractured finger doesn't help - "only I am unfit," he laughed, when asked about the team's health - and whatever momentum Pakistan's openers have provided, has stalled with him at one down. He isn't too worried, but a positional switch may not be the worst option. "I won't put pressure on myself. The main thing is that the team wins," he said.

After that there is little unknown. New Zealand have been nothing short of remarkable here, especially with the number of first-choice players who have fallen by the wayside. They will scrap, for every run, every catch and every wicket and like Australia - but to a less intimidating degree - will not beat themselves. At some point, you feel, they must break the semi-final barrier; that they are more familiar with the Wanderers, having played their last two games there, will help.

If Pakistan do triumph, a first Champions Trophy final awaits them and it is an achievement not to be taken lightly. Younis's constant refrain through this event has been the same as it was in England in June, that Pakistan, cricket and country, needs a win here. Maybe the emotion has worn a little thin - Younis even joked about how often he says it. But repetition should not take from the substance of the sentiment: a Champions Trophy final, in this year and period, a final that would have been played in Pakistan had it not been for the security situation, will still be a remarkable and touching accomplishment.

"It'll be fantastic if we reach the final. Pakistan is the only team that has not reached the final. For me as Pakistan captain, at the moment, winning the T20 World Cup and now in the semi-final: we need two more good days. If it happens, it will be fantastic for Pakistan. We need a couple of good titles because cricket is the only game in Pakistan that brings the people together. I think it's a good time to give them one more gift."

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Albert on October 3, 2009, 20:17 GMT

    Albert 1972

    Thank you Yunus and Inti, we owe you a big one. Thank you, you made us look great champions today, had you people not thrown your match against Aussies, we would have to settle to play the mighty aussies. We dont see us beating them but we are great that your gamble did not paid off. Next time you do such charade, remember what happened today. If you have guns and you dont want to fire than please dont show up for a fight.

  • Muthuvel on October 3, 2009, 12:04 GMT

    Pak are world beaters , phenom of a team, they won world 20 20 and now on way to champions trophy. They might just blow away the NZ challenge today and beat australia easily in finals.

  • gul on October 3, 2009, 12:02 GMT

    surely pakistan's quandry is which of the seamers to pick? there is no way you can drop any of the spinners, be it ajmal, afridi or shoaib. i like the idea of opening the bowling with asif and amir and trying to leave umar till the middle and final overs along with ajmal. this will mean probably dropping naveed, which is hard after his bowling against australia. its a good problem to have.

    batting is where the problem lies. you cant really drop younis as he is captain so i guess so its two out of the three of nazir, misbah or umar akmal

  • Farhan on October 3, 2009, 11:59 GMT

    if i was younis khan....i'd go for Muhammad Asif in place of umar gul cuz umar gul is lacking form while asif can exploit the conditions very well as he has always done before. Looking at the india vs west indies game at the same venue, i'd definitely go for asif

  • Shahzad on October 3, 2009, 11:34 GMT

    Well all Pakistan fans want our team always put their 100% and fight till the end, way our team did in the match against Australia the other day. If Pak team play to its potential we are going to win this trophy as well. Best of luck to Pak team & its captain.

  • Hassaan on October 3, 2009, 10:14 GMT

    well we shouldnt always look at history, even tho pakistan has mostly outplayed NZ. today our strength needs to be our bowlers, because the pitch is unlike Centurion. it's actually generally a good batting pitch and if we can restrict NZ early on then we dont have to worry so much about chasing or setting a huge total because let's face it, we're still unpredictable when it comes to our batting. Somehow, we've always had someone or another sticking in, but we can't just rely on one player. I'm hoping Afridi plays a fantastic innings with the bat this time. It'll also be interesting to see what Asif will be able to do with his pacers on this pitch.

  • Nazibul on October 3, 2009, 9:24 GMT

    there will be a hard competition between these two, but if we see the history we can see that in any ICC events Pakistan is always favorite against NZ. Pakistan may face a bit trouble to select the best 11, on the other hand the total New Zealand team is in good rhythm , so it will be nice match to watch, each has chances to go through the final. If Macculam stands while opening the innings for NZ then Pakistan will be in real trouble, on the other hand the performance of Imran Nazir still pending, if Yunus Khan picks him and Nazir clicks then scenario will be different. Umar Akmal hasn't got enough chance to bat in this tournament, Yunus Khan can replace his order with Umar. Shoaib Malik is in tremendous form & Guptil, Tailor can change everything. Bowling department is quite strong of both the team. Yusun Khan will be confused to choose the three pacers out of 4, Ameer or Asif or Naved how he will choose only two from them? Or Yunus will think to give rest Umar Gul? Its tough.

  • shahid on October 3, 2009, 8:37 GMT

    cricket like other games is a game, two team contest, at the end of the day, one wins, who so ever win, we must not cry, or use words against the loser, i am of this school of thought that praise the cricketers, who plays good appriciate them, yes with india we have the opposite, when we won with india for me final we already won by defeating india,because they always go against pakistan, with with newzeland or australia there is no grudge who so ever win i will appriciate them, and invite them on a dinner in toronto, they willbe my guest,pakistan is a good team but they have a problem that they become nervous very quickly,if they stand solid they will show us good cricket,NZ is a good team they have the ability to show good cricket, i wish both the team a very good luck and hope sportsman spirit will prevail and we will see som good cricket, inshallah.

  • Gomnie on October 3, 2009, 8:10 GMT

    Both sides are stronger in bowling than batting - but it will be an easy wicket so this will even out. Pak must consider that the NZ team has been disrupted by the loss of key players and attack the weak spots. If NZ hold their nerve, their discipline will win it - so Pak must find a way to break through and unsettle NZ. If batting first Pak must play solidly and pick on the weak link - Butler. If bowling, restrict McCullum and attack the weaker men with spin and swing - Aleem Latif is right - stick with the winning combination.

  • ken on October 3, 2009, 7:22 GMT

    i dont like the batting lineup i dont know why they are putting umer akmal as 6 he is still kid who is a hard hitter he doesnt need to be in a position where he will have to bat under pressure he should be no.4 with malik being no.3 because if things go wrong im sure he can take control of the situation and build a foundation for the team to bat on. and misbah should be given another chance he is been looking good to (atleast better than younis khan) lately he should take younis kahns place because he is a liability with his finger younis should come down the order (no.8?)

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