May Issue 2010

By | Sports | Published 8 years ago

There exists the possibility that by the time you read this ICC World Twenty20 Championship preview, defending champions, Pakistan, will already be out of the April 30 to May 16 spectacle in the Caribbean. But its also heartening, from a Pakistan fan’s perspective, to know that Shahid Afridi’s men have the firepower to go all the way and retain the crown that they won in an emphatic manner in England last summer.

The only predictable thing about Pakistan, as usual, is their unpredictability.

Last June, their chances of winning the world cricket title seemed bleak, but after a poor start they bounced back into the tournament and beat top teams like New Zealand, South Africa and Sri Lanka, and Younus Khan and his boys went on to lift the crown on that memorable day at Lord’s.

Pakistan enter the 2010 Caribbean extravaganza as the most successful team in the Twenty20 format, with some of the most dangerous players in the slam-bang version of the game. And although Umar Gul — the highest wicket-taker in T20 championships — is out of the squad because of a shoulder injury, the team still has some of the best bowlers and cleanest hitters in their ranks.

But Pakistan have had more than their share of problems in the lead up to the World Twenty20 Championship.

The players are yet to fully recover from the horrors of a catastrophic tour of Australia where they lost all the matches — three Tests, five One-Day Internationals and a T20 game. The going against the Aussies could prove to be a tough one again for Pakistan.

On paper, Pakistan seem capable enough of defending the title. They boast a strong line-up. In Shahid Afridi, they have the most destructive all-rounder in this format of the game. They have a good pace battery spearheaded by Mohammad Asif but, on the slow West Indian tracks, it is expected that the spinners will be the ones to play a major role in the line of defence.

Afridi himself will be at the helm of the spin attack that includes Saeed Ajmal and last-minute inclusion Abdur Rehman: an experienced left-armer. With comeback all-rounder Mohammad Hafeez and youngster Fawad Alam also at his disposal, Afridi will have enough options to bamboozle the opposition.

All eyes will be on the dynamite kid, Umar Akmal. With his explosive batting, the younger of the Akmal brothers has the potential to blaze through the World T20. His elder sibling Kamran, too, will be looking to play his role after being singled out as one of the villains of the disastrous tour Down Under. Young pace sensation Mohammad Aamir will, once again, be looking to make his presence felt in the Caribbean after making a sensational debut in England, nine months ago.

In a nutshell, Pakistan come across as an exciting package, capable of scaling new heights but unpredictable enough to disappoint their fans back home.

Ask Afridi and he will tell you that his team knows what it takes to win a World Cup. The flamboyant all-rounder proved himself as Pakistan’s most potent weapon in the last two editions of the popular spectacle and is well aware that he should shine again if the Greenshirts are to defend the crown in the Caribbean on May 16. “We won the title in England last year and I know we can do it again,” says the skipper. “But we will have to play to our full potential. That’s what I’ve been telling my boys again and again, that the team needs each and every one of you to give his best because that’s the only way to win a world cup.”

Afridi, 30, is at the helm of a team that has been accused and punished for infighting and under-performance. He himself is one of the seven leading players who were banned or fined after Pakistan’s disastrous tour of Australia for charges ranging from indiscipline to ball-tampering.

But Afridi is confident that his boys will put aside the bitter memories of the recent past to bounce back in the West Indies. “We are looking for a way to make things right. I personally believe that by winning the world title we can move beyond what’s happened.”

Afridi is pinning his hopes on his potent bowling attack that has been buoyed up by the return of Mohammad Asif, who missed the 2009 World T20 because of a doping ban. “Our bowling is among the best in the world, especially in the T20 format,” he says. “We have the right combination of pace and spin and I’m confident it will click in the West Indies where the playing conditions should suit us.”

Afridi is seriously considering placing himself up the order to boost Pakistan’s often fragile batting line-up. “We need somebody good for the crucial No 3 spot and maybe I can be there. We also have the option of Umar Akmal in that position.”

Afridi’s Pakistan has been hit hard by injury-related problems in the lead up to the Caribbean assignment, but the skipper believes his team has to overcome some early hiccups.

Pakistan have been bracketed with Australia and Bangladesh for group matches and Afridi has made it clear that his team will not be taking anything for granted. “It’s true that we are the defending champions, but it won’t matter much once the event begins. We give equal respect to everyone, even to teams like Bangladesh, who have the potential to put up a fight in T20 matches.”

Much has been said and written about the lack of harmony in the Pakistan camp, and Afridi has been drumming the importance of team spirit and unity into the boys and is confident that his team will unite behind him in the Caribbean. “We all know that we can only win the World Cup again if we play like a team,” he says. “For us, there is no other way but to stay united and give the title our best shot.”

The writer is ranked among the battle-hardened journalists covering sports. As sports editor for The News, he covers sporting action extensively in Pakistan and abroad.