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Can Pakistan mount a serious challenge?

S. Dinakar

The conditions in the Caribbean should suit Pakistan



TEAM OF EXTREMES: The Pakistan team boasts of a talented bunch of players who when they jell are unstoppable but are also prone to self-destruct. — Photo: AFP

Achieving the right balance in the eleven, making the most of the resources available, and hiding the weaknesses, can be a fascinating exercise.

Can Pakistan, its pace attack severely depleted by injuries, mount a serious challenge in the World Cup? Shoiab Akhtar's thrust and Mohammed Asif's craft will be absent. The heavy hitting and handy reverse swing of Abdul Razzaq will not be available too.

The conditions in the Caribbean should suit Pakistan. There might be some bounce in the newly laid pitches — this could actually help leg-spinners Danish Kaneria and Shahid Afridi — but not substantial lateral movement.

Bounce and pace

And it is the deviation off the seam that has troubled the Pakistani line-up — one of stroke-makers — in the past. These batsmen can use the bounce and pace of the ball to their advantage on the smaller grounds of the Caribbean.

As the competition enters the decisive phase, the surfaces could be similar to those in the sub-continent. Pakistan, despite the doubters, has a sniff. This is a team of extremes. A united Pakistani side plays with passion. If dissension sets in, the team can crumble. This could be the side's ideal XI for most conditions during the World Cup.


The openers: The ploy to promote Kamran Akmal backfired in South Africa; the wicket-keeper batsman's intrepid ways are better suited down the order. Imran Nazir has staged a comeback. He should be in the starting line-up.

The Afridi factor

Shoaib Malik, a smooth-stroker, could open with Nazir. If the surfaces are on the slower side, Shahid Afridi, after he completes the ban (two more ODIs), could swap positions with Malik. These men can inflict considerable damage in the power-play overs.

The No. 3 and middle-order: Younis Khan would be ideal at No. 3. A smart cricketer, Younis is a busy batsman, who runs well between the wickets. Mohammad Yousuf, the dominant right-hander with rapier-like strokes and sure-footwork, would come in at No 4. And the gifted Inzamam — with soft touch and calmness under pressure — has this wonderful ability to find gaps. The bottom half: Afridi, if held back, can be destructive at No. 6. Akmal can innovate at No. 7. And Azhar Mahmood, a worthy replacement for Razzaq, can dismantle attacks. This line-up has depth and the strikers for the end overs.

Pace bowling: Comeback man Umar Gul can be incisive with his control and two-way seam-movement. But, will his body stand the strain? Rao Iftekar Anjum, a stump to stump bowler of lively pace, has a creditable economy rate of 4.60 in 26 games. Ideally, he should partner Gul.

A toss up

It will be a toss up between Anjum and Rana Naved. Rana operated poorly in South Africa (economy rate 9.60) but impressed in the home series against the West Indies (average 11.81, economy rate 3.70). With his ability to reverse, Rana can strike at the death.

Sami has the pace, but tends to stray down leg-side in his attempt to bend the ball. Mahmood is a clever seamer with a truck-load of experience. Gul, Anjum (or Rana) and Mahmood, with his change of pace, could bowl at the death.

There are still question marks about how this pace attack combines under pressure. Discipline rather than scorching pace and reverse swing should mark Pakistan's pace bowling in this World Cup.

Spin bowling: Kaneria's control and bag of tricks could be particularly useful in the second half of the competition when the pitches, after the wear and tear, are likely to assist the spinners. Afridi, quicker through the air, extracts bounce. The two could contain and strike in the middle-overs on surfaces that could be dry. And Shoiab Malik, whose action has been cleared, can chip in with his off-spin. Under the circumstances, spin could hold the key for Pakistan.

Options

If Inzamam can get 30 overs out of Gul, Anjum or Rana, and Mahmood, the other 20 can be completed by Kaneria, Afridi and Malik. In an outfit of all-rounders, Inzamam has options.

In such a scenario, Sami, off-spinning all-rounder Mohammed Hafiz, paceman Yaser Arafat, and either Anjum or Rana, will be the back-up.

Importantly, Akmal's glovework and the side's catching need to improve. Pakistan's ODI form this season has been streaked by inconsistency. Now, it awaits the World Cup Test.

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