Pakistan packing powerful punches
World Cup Preview
By Ezra Stuart Guyana Chronicle
January 19, 2003

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SPEARHEADED by the game’s two most successful One-Day bowlers, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, unpredictable Pakistan will be hoping to reverse their recent woeful One-Day performances in order to lift the World Cup, they won in 1992, a second time.

Pakistan go into the 2003 World Cup which starts in South Africa on February 9 as joint third favourites with India behind title-holders Australia and the ‘Proteas’ at 8-1 odds.

Always blessed with a rich reservoir of talented players, inconsistency and internal cricket politics have encircled Pakistan’s cricket over the years, resulting in the team not always playing to its full potential.

The upcoming World Cup presents another opportunity for Pakistan to display their mettle in the limited-overs version of the game as they will be fielding the tournament’s most experienced squad.

Captain Waqar, with 409 scalps from 256 matches and veteran left-arm seamer Akram, who has a record 490 wickets under his belt in 350 matches, are the only two bowlers in the history of One-Day cricket to scale the 400-mark.

Whereas Waqar and Wasim can still be match-winners because of their immense wealth of knowledge and experience, they are not as potent and penetrative as in the 1990s when they combined to terrorise batsmen.

Yet, both remain fierce competitors and still have an important role to play in Pakistan’s powerful bowling arsenal, especially Wasim, who is 10 wickets shy of becoming the first bowler to take 500 ODI wickets.

Once the fiery but injury-prone Shoaib Akhtar is fully fit and firing on all cylinders after being given a clean bill of health by specialists in South Africa and cleared by the Pakistan Cricket Board’s panel of doctors, Pakistan could be frightening foes.

Add all-rounder Abdul Razzaq, and the wily off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq to the above trio and this leaves Pakistan with an enviable attack, which has the ability to destroy any batting line-up.

In addition, Shahid Afridi has proved to be steady and successful with his fast leg breaks while all-rounder Azhar Mahmood, after losing his place through lack of form and fitness, returns to the team, leaving Pakistan with several bowling options.

Apart from Wasim and Waqar, who have combined for 899 wickets, Akhtar has rushed to 122 in only 75 matches at an average of 21.00 and a strike rate of a wicket every 27.9 balls.

Razzaq’s 153 scalps have been taken in just 119 matches while Saqlain has been very consistent, hauling in 284 wickets in 164 matches at an average of 21.64 and a commendable economy rate of 4.28.

The returning Mahmood, with an excellent track record in South African conditions behind him, has captured 112 wickets in 123 matches and Afridi has bagged 128 in 173 matches.

This means that Pakistan’s seven leading bowlers, all with more than 100 scalps, have combined for a whopping 1 698 wickets, making the 1992 champions and 1999 losing finalists, by far the most experienced and successful bowling attack.

No other team can boast of such impressive One-Day bowling statistics and on the bowler-friendly pitches in South Africa, Pakistan definitely have the ammunition to shoot down opposing team for modest totals.

If the Pakistan bowling, which also includes the pacy Mohammad Sami, is more than capable of holding its own, the same cannot be said for the batting department despite the presence of a couple of stalwarts and a few emerging stroke-makers.

Pakistan, recognising the need to have a couple of experienced batsmen in their line-up, wisely recalled their prolific left-handed opener Saeed Anwar, whose 8 605 runs in 242 matches at an average of 38.93 have been embellished by 19 centuries.

Anwar, holder of the highest individual One-Day score, 194, will partner either the promising Taufeeq Umar, who has appeared in only six ODIs so far or the talented Saleem Elahi, who has already hammered four centuries in only 36 ODIs, at the top of the order.

Pakistan can also call on the ultra-aggressive Afridi, who has the distinction of scoring the world’s fastest One-Day century and an overall scoring rate of 101.62, to launch the innings with his typically enterprising and exhilarating batting.

In the past, Pakistan have experimented with Razzaq at No.3 but this position will no doubt be taken by the fast-improving Younis Khan, who will be followed by the heavy-scoring Inzamam-ul-Haq and the free-scoring Yousuf Youhana.

Inzamam is Pakistan’s leading run-scorer in One-Day cricket with 8 938 runs in 284 matches at an average of 39.20 with eight centuries but his lack of judgment in running between the wickets, has cut short many of his innings at crucial stages.

Youhana, who patterns his batting off his mentor, Javed Miandad, the former Pakistan captain and master batsman, is the team’s most dependable batsman as evidenced by his 4 160 runs, adorned by eight hundreds, in 121 ODIs at an impressive average of 42.88.

Former captain and wicketkeeper Rashid Latif is also no slough with the bat and along with the all-rounders in Razzaq, Mahmood and Akram, could play key roles in the lower half of the Pakistan innings, especially the closing overs.

After the humiliation of losing 4-1 to South Africa in their last One-Day series, Pakistan, cognisant of the need to make their attack more economical and effective, have engaged the services of Daryl Foster as fast-bowling consultant for the World Cup.

Despite the doom and gloom of that series in South Africa, captain Waqar believes it could be a blessing in disguise, coming ahead of the World Cup.

“During the series, the team carried out experiments to simulate various scenarios and playing conditions. Despite the adverse results, the exercise has given them an opportunity to reflect on the performance gaps and the team is committed to plug these gaps when they gather for the training camp in South Africa before the World Cup,” Waqar noted.

He is also confident that his squad, which includes 10 players with World Cup experience, “will prove to be a formidable opposition and will rise to the expectations of the 140 million people of Pakistan.”

Chairman of the Pakistan selectors, Wasim Bari, is also optimistic the formidable squad, with “a combination of youth and experience”, has the “capacity, talent and capability to regain lost glory”.

“In my mind, there is no doubt this team is capable of excelling in the World Cup despite a recent run of poor form. But I believe form is temporary and class is permanent and there can’t be two opinions that this team has plenty of class, elegance and natural flair,” Bari said.

After the disappointment of losing to Australia in England four years ago, the 36-year-old Wasim, who will be appearing in his fifth World Cup, will be hoping for a successful send-off like the one which their legendary all-rounder Imran Khan got in 1992.

Squad: Waqar Younis (captain), Saeed Anwar, Taufeeq Umar, Saleem Elahi, Younis Khan, Yousuf Youhana, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Shahid Afridi, Abdul Razzaq, Azhar Mahmood, Wasim Akram, Rashid Latif, Shoaib Akhtar, Saqlain Mushtaq, Mohammad Sami.

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