Team preview: Pakistan September 7, 2007

In pace we trust

Pakistan's three fast bowlers give them an attack of potentially unparalleled class. By Osman Samiuddin



Shoaib Akhtar is back, but can he make it count? © AFP

Given that almost all their players have grown up on 20-overs-a-side night matches with taped tennis balls, Pakistan should be ideally placed for the World Twenty20. As ever, it isn't that simple.

Pakistan's 15-man squad is as significant for those who are in as for those who are not. Dropping your best batsman - Mohammad Yousuf - is a big, but not particularly clever, move. Abdul Razzaq's recent form sadly warranted his axing, though at his peak he would've been a shoo-in not only for the squad but for a player-of-the-tournament award.

Still, the squad remains blessed with the kind of allrounders the format loves; a Shahid Afridi blitz and four tidy overs here, a Mohammad Hafeez spell to open the innings (they've experimented with it) and a handy 20 there, a Shoaib Malik middle-order whirlwind and a key wicket there.

They warmed up well in Nairobi - as well they should have, given the quality of opposition - but bear in mind also that their last international before the Nairobi warm-up was the most crushing defeat yet seen in this form of the game. Dark horses, you say? But of course.

Home truths
Behind England and South Africa, Pakistan's domestic Twenty20 is the most evolved. Three editions of the tournament have attracted more fans than the last 20 seasons of domestic cricket put together, and as Geoff Lawson noted, it has given many squad members a good grasp of the format.

Imran Nazir, Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Asif have all played crucial roles in the success of Sialkot Stallions as reigning two-time champions and Faisalabad Wolves were the first winners of the World Club Twenty20 tournament in 2005.

Strengths
Pace. Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammad Asif and Umar Gul are all fit and available for once, which means Pakistan have an attack that is the envy of any in the tournament. The format may favour batsmen but good pace bowlers are good anywhere, anytime, any format, and if they come across helpful pitches, they can be the difference. With Afridi and a coterie of limited-overs spinners as back-up, the bowling is nicely rounded.

Pakistan may have robbed themselves of a wicket-taking threat by following the edict that limited-overs players must be two-dimensional. Danish Kaneria is a good legspinner and they should have made an exception in his case

Ian Chappell

Nazir and Salman Butt have hinted in a summer of practice matches that they could turn opening, a traditionally debilitating weakness, into an explosive asset. With Afridi, Malik and Kamran Akmal lurking in the lower order, Pakistan's batting could yet be their strength ...

Weaknesses
But it could also be their Achilles heel, especially with an anorexic and unsettled middle order. Essentially Younis Khan is the middle order, though at least he is in some form. Misbah-ul-Haq has an impressive Twenty20 record (one of four century-makers domestically) but the order looked fluid through the warm-up games, which can be both good and bad.

Fielding is the other obvious weakness, though without Mohammad Yousuf and Abdul Razzaq the standards rise by default. Pakistan could do much worse than Nazir, Malik, Hafeez and Afridi in the circle, but beyond that remain some serious passengers. It is likely to be pivotal.

Players to watch
Shahid Afridi Like Razzaq, he is tailormade for the format. Surprisingly he has yet to score a fifty in a Twenty20 international or a domestic match, though his form in the warm-up matches in Nairobi suggests it may not be too far off. If so it will be, as in any format, a blisteringly quick one. His bowling has been far more successful: difficult to get away and likely to break partnerships.

Imran Nazir Malik picked him as one of the players to watch and he should know, having played alongside him for Sialkot Stallions in two winning campaigns. Nazir averages just over 35 in domestic Twenty20 but it is the strike-rate of 162 that is worth drooling over. If he gets Pakistan off to the kind of starts he has given Sialkot, their prospects are promising. As a bonus, he is the most athletic fielder in the side, and as captain of the Stallions he will be expected to bring something to the brains trust.

Dark horse
Yasir Arafat He has been hovering around the national team for some time without ever making the type of impact expected of him. Slingy pace and a good, full length helped his county side, Kent, win the Twenty20 Cup this year (and he had the third-highest wicket haul in the tournament) though his lusty lower-order belting has had more success in Pakistan than abroad. Perhaps this is his chance, and his format?



Imran Nazir has the small matter of a 150-plus strike-rate in domestic Twenty20 games going for him © Getty Images

Fawad Alam If he gets a game, look out for this diminutive allrounder who stole the show in the last domestic tournament. His heroics in the final (a fifty and five wickets) couldn't prevent defeat for his team, but it was the highlight of a magnificent domestic season and catapulted him onto the national stage

Ian Chappell's take
Pakistan is its usual self - a skilled rabble. Only, this time they're a little bit down on ability; with Inzamam-ul-Haq retired and Mohammad Yousuf enchanted by the Indian Cricket League's dollars, the Pakistan middle order - which has been the life-blood of their batting - has been severely diluted. Also, the omission of Abdul Razzak has reduced - by 50 per cent - the dangerous power-hitting duo he formed with Shahid Afridi. Pakistan will struggle to put enough runs on the board, which is an even greater concern, given their fielding is likely to remain butter-fingered and unathletic.

This is a pity, because their pace bowling is potentially strong, especially if Shoaib Akhtar returns to his best form. He and Mohammad Asif are an imposing dual-strike threat, and Iftikhar Anjum and the fast-improving Umar Gul are good back-up pacemen. Afridi and skipper Shoaib Malik are handy spinners but Pakistan may have robbed themselves of a wicket-taking threat by following, like sheep, the edict that limited-overs players must be two-dimensional. Danish Kaneria is a good legspinner and they should have made an exception to this dubious rule in his case.

Pakistan will make the final eight - but that won't be a great achievement since they have lowly Scotland in their group - and they will fall well short of a semi-final berth. Rating: 6/10

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

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