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Aging aces hold the key for Pakistan

By Asif Iqbal
January 28, 2003 20:57 IST
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Widely proclaimed as the most unpredictable side in the 2003 World Cup -- a billing it has enjoyed in previous World Cups as well -- Pakistan is perhaps the side that everybody dreads playing against. That's because you never know what to expect.

This unpredictability has been true of Pakistani teams over the years and part of it must have something to do with temperament. These are extremely talented individuals -- most of them unschooled and untutored in the game -- who have reached the international level by sheer dint of individual genius.

Genius has its own rules but one of its great drawbacks is inconsistency. Part of the team's unpredictability also has to do with the particular strengths of the side. This is a side whose main asset is fast bowling of an aggressive and, quite often, match-winning type. But the one-day game is not designed for the superfast bowler, with its emphasis on run saving and anything beyond two slips -- and that too in the first few overs only -- being considered an unaffordable luxury. In any case, a bowler, no matter how good, is allowed only ten overs in this form of the game and there is only so much that even the best bowlers in the world can do in ten overs.

This is a game designed for batsmen, who are given unfettered freedom to play as long as they like and hit the ball wherever they like. That, unfortunately, is not a department of the game that may be regarded as Pakistan's forte.

Inzamam-ul Haq is undoubtedly Pakistan's top batsman and a great deal will depend on him. He will be looking closely to Yusuf Youhana and Younis Khan for support. In this regard one must welcome a statement made by Pakistan captain Waqar Younis to the effect that in some selected games Inzamam would be batting in the crucial number three position.

I would consider this a positive development because in the limited-overs form of the game I feel it is imperative to give your best batsman the maximum possible time out in the middle. It would, of course, be infinitely better for Inzamam to have the confidence that he would, in all likelihood, be going in at number three after a good opening partnership. But at this stage it does appear as if any such confidence may be premature.

The selection of Saeed Anwar has, perhaps, been the most controversial part of Pakistan's build-up to the Cup. Certainly, the criticism that if he was in the frame he should have been in the squad that toured southern Africa with Pakistan in November and December last year seems to be perfectly valid. As things stand, he has hardly had any international cricket over the past year-and-a-half and has not really distinguished himself in the little cricket he has played. He is also now some way from being a top class fieldsman.

That is one department of the game that could be a problem for Pakistan. With Saeed Anwar, Wasim Akram, Inzamam and skipper Waqar himself no longer the fastest movers on the international scene, this is an aspect of the game that Pakistan will have to watch out for. No doubt coach Pybus has this problem fully in his sights and will be working overtime to sort things out. Allied to this problem of a squad with some aging cricketers will be the problem of fitness. Pybus again will have his work cut out in trying to ensure that everybody is available for every game.

It is unfortunate that even on the day the team was expected to depart for South Africa there was news in Pakistani newspapers of a possible change in captaincy, with Wasim being named as the "popular choice". This is an issue that has been dragged though the press in Pakistan for the better part of the last two months and I cannot see who or how it has done any good. The board has tried to squash these repeated rumours, but with very limited success.

It is precisely the sort of thing that creates division in the side, and one would not be spilling any secrets here if one were to say that this is not one of the sides particularly known for its unity. Maybe, the individualism that leads to disunity is just another facets of genius! Be that as it may, one hopes that now that the side has arrived in South Africa such unhelpful media coverage will cease and the boys will be left to prepare for the daunting task ahead.

___________ Key Players ___________

Afridi is the one player to be watched. His capabilities as batsman, bowler and fielder are outstanding.

Purely from a bowler's point of view, Shoaib Akhtar is a match winner. Inzamam-ul Haq will be the key batsman for Pakistan.

Having said that, Pakistan, unlike any other team, have individuals who can be match winners. If all the outstanding individuals click together, Pakistan will win the cup.

___________ Chances out of ten ___________

Pakistan's chances are as good as any of the other top teams. I would give them 8 out of 10 to qualify for the Super-sixes. The reason for not giving them 10 for the final is that any of the six teams could qualify for the semi-finals once they are in the Super-sixes.

___________ Key games ___________

Every match is a key match; even Zimbabwe cannot be taken lightly. This is one of the most open World Cups ever. Any team that clicks on the day can win.

Previous analysis:

Sri Lanka - Prithviraj Hegde
India - Prem Panicker
Australia - Daniel Laidlaw
West Indies - Ashish Magotra
India's chances rest on fielding - Srinivas Venkataraghavan
Proteas are the pick in Pool B - Srinivas Venkataraghavan

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Asif Iqbal