Pakistan prepare to face their nemesis
Australia are back to haunt Pakistan. In the last twelve months Pakistan's record against this opponent has been abysmal. It started with the two-wicket defeat in the Champions Trophy in South Africa last September and continued in the series whitewash down under, where Pakistan failed to notch even a single win.
Then in the World Twenty20 Australia knocked off Pakistan's challenge easily in the league stage and in the semi-finals Michael Hussey launched a freakish last-minute assault that turned out to be one of the best Twenty20 innings of all time.
Hussey whipped 38 runs off the final 10 deliveries, including 22 off Saeed Ajmal's first four in the final over, to inflict a defeat that will have left psychological scars. Ajmal admitted later feeling utterly helpless amid the onslaught. Hence it is easy to predict that Pakistan would like to settle the score over the next two evenings when the two sides meet in the twin Twenty20s at Edgbaston - the first part of Pakistan's home series against Australia, being played on neutral soil.
Emotions aside, Pakistan are well aware Australia don't dwell too much on the past, instead their quest for being the best is a never-ending work-in-progress. Their commanding wins in the final two games of the NatWest Series against England give them the edge. Shaun Tait won't be shy of slinging down more 100mph deliveries and his battle with Shoaib Akhtar, the only other man in this generation to have achieved the same feat twice, would be the marquee contest of the match.
But Shahid Afridi needs to temper his most senior fast bowler lest Akhtar take the speed race seriously. If Akthar, who still has a big heart - the biggest weapon for a fast bowler - can keep his mind and body intact, it could turn out to be a scintillating affair and even offset the batting dominance that Australia have over their opponents.
The recovery of Umar Gul from a shoulder injury picked up in March has only bolstered the Pakistan bowling department, which also has the talented left-armer Mohammed Aamer, who collected a five-for in the tour's first warm-up match in Kent last week. "For the last 50 years our bowling has been our main weapon and that won't change," Afridi said.
At the same time Afridi is not bothered by the mood swings in the batting department, which comprises the aggressive Akmal brothers - Kamran and Umar - along with the experience of Shoaib Malik, Afridi and Abdul Razzaq. But their unpredictability is never in question. "We have the talent and I'm sure the youngsters will come good soon," Afridi said.
Umar Akmal proved why he could be Pakistan's most important batsman this summer when he led Pakistan's fightback from 53 for 3 to record 153 and put them out of danger against Kent; Shahzaib Hasan started the tour with a half-century in the Twenty20 exhibition match against MCC, fell short of another fifty against Essex on Friday but got it on Saturday against Northamptonshire. Shoaib Malik has shown enough promise to indicate he can still be dangerous if he puts his mind to it and avoids the rush-of-blood moments he can fall prey to. As for Afridi, there is no method or formula but hope always lurks around.
Still, to face Dirk Nannes, the best bowler in the World Twenty20, Mitchell Johnson, who is returning from injury but should still be a handful, and the fiery Tait would test the best of nerves and Pakistan will have to do it two nights in a row. Afridi remains stubborn. "It is a big pressure game against Australia but we have always given them a tough time. The way we've been playing, I have enough belief to defeat Australia. Even they are aware that we have given them some difficult times." The facts reveal the opposite.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo