Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of ESPNcricinfo
Pakistan may have qualified for the knockout stages of the World Cup for the first time since 1999 but their coach Waqar Younis is not prepared to look beyond their final group game against Australia just yet. Pakistan slipped to second place in Group A after a seven-wicket win over Zimbabwe in Pallekele on Monday, but could still finish in any of the top four positions depending on what happens against Australia, and in other games.
Waqar said he wasn't thinking about whom his side might play in the quarter-finals. "Right now we are thinking of only Australia," Waqar said. "If you win that game, then your morale will be such that you won't worry about any team you play."
Barring a shock loss to Canada, Australia will go into Saturday's game on a 34-match unbeaten streak in the World Cup, stretching back to the 1999 tournament. Their last loss, in fact, came against Pakistan, at Headingley. Ricky Ponting's team is the only unbeaten side in this tournament.
"You have an option [whereby] you could play the No. 4 team [from the other group] whose morale will be down," Waqar said. "But momentum is very important and necessary. Australia are such a big team, world champions, and they haven't lost for ages. That is an opportunity. If you beat them, you leave a mark. You can look at the next matches and teams will think twice about playing against you. The bigger thing is the momentum of beating the world champions and the confidence it gives you. That game is important."
As Sri Lanka did against Australia in a game that was eventually washed out in Colombo, Pakistan might consider playing a spin-heavy attack, though with Shahid Afridi, Abdur Rehman and Mohammad Hafeez already in the XI, they are pretty well stocked.
"The strategy will be very similar," Waqar said. "Try to play 50 overs first, pile up a big total, that's the key. And then, when you look at bowling sides around the world, I think we have a fairly good bowling side. If we can put a handsome total, we stand a good chance of winning that match. Or if we bowl them out cheaply, we have a good chance of chasing it."
There remained, Waqar insisted, further room for improvement within the side and part of his concern was directed specifically at two young batsmen, Ahmed Shehzad and Umar Akmal. Shehzad failed for the fifth match running, stumped trying to slog Ray Price. He now has 44 runs in the tournament and is a prime candidate for the axe.
"We're thinking of building an opening partnership, that is the first point," Waqar said. "It was a rash shot from Shehzad. It wasn't really required at the time. But don't forget he is a youngster, he is only 21 and brand new in this arena. It's not easy sometimes. In the heat of the moment you play silly shots and that's how you learn cricket. He's probably learnt a big lesson today that when the team needs you at the wicket, you should stay."
The more cutting observation was for Umar, who was for the second time in his short career, the subject of speculation about faking an injury to support his elder brother Kamran. Umar didn't play against Zimbabwe and when Waqar was asked about the reasons behind it, he smiled, waited and said, "He has two or three problems." He pulled back immediately, clarifying that there was a finger injury as well as an ankle injury picked up during a football session, but the comment will only fuel talk that the team management is not happy with Umar's attitude.