February Issue 2003

By | Sports | Published 17 years ago

On paper there cannot be a better one-day team. But the 2003 Cricket World Cup will not be played on paper. If it were, Pakistan would have been the best bet to win the crown. With legends like Wasim Akram and skipper Waqar Younis — the only two players in history to take more than 400 wickets in one-day internationals — the bowling would appear to have a lot of firepower, especially when the tearaway Shoaib Akhtar and young turk Mohammad Sami also join them in the pace attack. Alongside there is spin wiz Saqlain Mushtaq who was once rated as the world’s best slow bowler in one-day cricket and is still counted among the best there is, with all-rounder Shahid Afridi to bolster Pakistan’s bowling attack.

The batting also seems to have great depth. Veterans Saeed Anwar and Inzamamul Haq bring tons of experience with them. The two are one of the few batsmen in international cricket today with more than 8000 one-day runs under their belts. Then there is the stylish Yousuf Youhana who is regarded among one of the finest batsmen in the world. Younis Khan is now an established bat. Opener Salim Elahi appears to be in great form. The young Taufeeq Umar has shown a lot of promise. Pinch-hitter Shahid Afridi is seen as one of the most exciting players in the international arena. And Abdur Razzak and Azhar Mahmood are counted among the world’s premier all-rounders.

Then why in the world should anyone doubt their chances of reaching even the super six stage of the World Cup? It’s simple mathematics: no matter what sort of reputation the individual players enjoy, Pakistan as a team has proved to be a total failure in recent months. Excluding the matches against Zimbabwe, its track record is alarmingly poor. Take, for exampe, the manner in which Pakistan was trounced by the other two Cup favourites, Australia and South Africa. And these are the two teams Pakistan is most likely to square off against in their quest for the crown. So if recent performance is any yardstick to measure prospects by, Pakistan should kiss its hopes of World Cup glory goodbye.

The tournament comes at a time when Pakistan’s bowling attack — long seen as the team’s best asset — appears rather rusty. The two Ws — Wasim Akram and Waqar Younas — are in the twilight of their careers. Saqlain Mushtaq doesn’t appear to be at his best either. Shoaib Akhtar is quick and a potential match winner, but his fitness has always been a big problem. In a demanding contest like the World Cup, Shoaib might falter when his team will need him the most. Pacer Mohammad Sami is still too young, while Abdur Razzaq and Azhar Mahmood are not specialist bowlers. They are batsmen who can bowl.

Pakistan’s batsmen give their fans even worse nightmares. Seen as one of the worst chasers of runs in one-day cricket, the Pakistanis have done little to put their batting line-up in order. It is true that batsmen like Inzamam, Youhana and Younis Khan have played many good knocks, but they have lacked consistency in recent years. And to win the Cup, consistency more than anything else is an imperative.

It was an really unwise decision not to send the seasoned Saeed Anwar to Zimbabwe and South Africa before the World Cup. And once he was kept away from that tour, the aging opener should never have been included in the World Cup squad. Saeed is past his prime and given the recent omission, must be quite out of touch. Certainly experience, which Saeed has no dearth of, is vital for the team, but then match fitness is also essential. The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has really blundered by first ignoring the elegant left-hander and then including him among the list of 15 men who will be shouldering Pakistan’s challenge in the World Cup.

The other openers, Salim Elahi and Taufeeq Umar, have performed well in matches against Zimbabwe, but it will be a different ball game in the World Cup. The high pressure matches especially against formidable opponents like Australia and South Africa are bound to test the skills and temperament of these players.

The middle order too will be under extreme pressure and might crumble in crunch matches. Inzamam, Youhana, Younis, Abdur Razzak and Azhar Mahmood are all capable cricketers, but have shown lapses in concentration on many occasions.

But all said and done, the Pakistanis are one side you cannot ignore when preparing a list of favourites in any cricket tournament. They are supremely gifted and amazingly unpredictable. In the 1999 World Cup they defeated the eventual champions Australia in a league match, but fell to the babes of international cricket, Bangladesh.

For players Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Saeed Anwar, it will be the last World Cup. They, together with other members of the team need to deliver, especially after the crushing defeat to Australia in the final of the last World Cup in England.

This time Pakistan has teams like Australia, India, England and Zimbabwe to face on the way to the super six stage. More than one defeat in the initial league phase, and their chances of proceeding to the next stage will all but vanish.

. If it were, Pakistan would have been the best bet to win the crown. With legends like Wasim Akram and skipper Waqar Younis — the only two players in history to take more than 400 wickets in one-day internationals — the bowling would appear to have a lot of firepower, especially when the tearaway Shoaib Akhtar and young turk Mohammad Sami also join them in the pace attack. Alongside there is spin wiz Saqlain Mushtaq who was once rated as the world’s best slow bowler in one-day cricket and is still counted among the best there is, with all-rounder Shahid Afridi to bolster Pakistan’s bowling attack.

The batting also seems to have great depth. Veterans Saeed Anwar and Inzamamul Haq bring tons of experience with them. The two are one of the few batsmen in international cricket today with more than 8000 one-day runs under their belts. Then there is the stylish Yousuf Youhana who is regarded among one of the finest batsmen in the world. Younis Khan is now an established bat. Opener Salim Elahi appears to be in great form. The young Taufeeq Umar has shown a lot of promise. Pinch-hitter Shahid Afridi is seen as one of the most exciting players in the international arena. And Abdur Razzak and Azhar Mahmood are counted among the world’s premier all-rounders.

Then why in the world should anyone doubt their chances of reaching even the super six stage of the World Cup? It’s simple mathematics: no matter what sort of reputation the individual players enjoy, Pakistan as a team has proved to be a total failure in recent months. Excluding the matches against Zimbabwe, its track record is alarmingly poor. Take, for exampe, the manner in which Pakistan was trounced by the other two Cup favourites, Australia and South Africa. And these are the two teams Pakistan is most likely to square off against in their quest for the crown. So if recent performance is any yardstick to measure prospects by, Pakistan should kiss its hopes of World Cup glory goodbye.

The tournament comes at a time when Pakistan’s bowling attack — long seen as the team’s best asset — appears rather rusty. The two Ws — Wasim Akram and Waqar Younas — are in the twilight of their careers. Saqlain Mushtaq doesn’t appear to be at his best either. Shoaib Akhtar is quick and a potential match winner, but his fitness has always been a big problem. In a demanding contest like the World Cup, Shoaib might falter when his team will need him the most. Pacer Mohammad Sami is still too young, while Abdur Razzaq and Azhar Mahmood are not specialist bowlers. They are batsmen who can bowl.

Pakistan’s batsmen give their fans even worse nightmares. Seen as one of the worst chasers of runs in one-day cricket, the Pakistanis have done little to put their batting line-up in order. It is true that batsmen like Inzamam, Youhana and Younis Khan have played many good knocks, but they have lacked consistency in recent years. And to win the Cup, consistency more than anything else is an imperative.

It was an really unwise decision not to send the seasoned Saeed Anwar to Zimbabwe and South Africa before the World Cup. And once he was kept away from that tour, the aging opener should never have been included in the World Cup squad. Saeed is past his prime and given the recent omission, must be quite out of touch. Certainly experience, which Saeed has no dearth of, is vital for the team, but then match fitness is also essential. The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has really blundered by first ignoring the elegant left-hander and then including him among the list of 15 men who will be shouldering Pakistan’s challenge in the World Cup.

The other openers, Salim Elahi and Taufeeq Umar, have performed well in matches against Zimbabwe, but it will be a different ball game in the World Cup. The high pressure matches especially against formidable opponents like Australia and South Africa are bound to test the skills and temperament of these players.

The middle order too will be under extreme pressure and might crumble in crunch matches. Inzamam, Youhana, Younis, Abdur Razzak and Azhar Mahmood are all capable cricketers, but have shown lapses in concentration on many occasions.

But all said and done, the Pakistanis are one side you cannot ignore when preparing a list of favourites in any cricket tournament. They are supremely gifted and amazingly unpredictable. In the 1999 World Cup they defeated the eventual champions Australia in a league match, but fell to the babes of international cricket, Bangladesh.

For players Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Saeed Anwar, it will be the last World Cup. They, together with other members of the team need to deliver, especially after the crushing defeat to Australia in the final of the last World Cup in England.

This time Pakistan has teams like Australia, India, England and Zimbabwe to face on the way to the super six stage. More than one defeat in the initial league phase, and their chances of proceeding to the next stage will all but vanish.

Dream Team

Saeed Anwar

A clean striker of the cricket ball, Saeed Anwar is considered among the world’s finest batsmen. The left-hander has some excellent strokes on both sides of the wicket and has helped Pakistan win many matches in the past. He has the record of scoring the highest score in a one-day match (194 against India). However, a lack of match practice and a nagging knee problem, might dog the veteran in the World Cup.

Taufeeq Umar

The 21-year-old from Lahore proved his mettle almost instantly in Test cricket, but it remains to been whether he will be able to deliver in one-day cricket and especially in the World Cup. He has just appeared in six one-day matches and has scored 180 runs at an average of 30. An opening batsman, who unlike his counterparts Sanath Jayasuriya and Adam Gilchrist is not a big-hitter, he will just have to stay at the wicket long enough and play a supporting role for his other teammates during the World Cup

Saleem Elahi

An exciting one-day batsman, Salim Elahi cemented his place in Pakistan’s World Cup squad with some explosive knocks in Zimbabwe. Tough Salim first made his debut for Pakistan in 1995-96. He has not played much international cricket (just 36 one-day matches), but the man has some great shots and can blast any sort of bowling side. Just needs to work a bit on his temperament.

Younis Khan

The Mardan-born Pathan has almost been a regular feature of the Pakistan team since appearing in his first one-day international against Sri Lanka in 1999 in Karachi, a city in which he has played most of his cricket. Not a very orthodox batsman, Younis has proved to be a useful member of the team with his healthy contributions to the grand total. He has already scored more than 2000 runs in one-day cricket and will be looking for more in the World Cup.

Yousuf Youhana

Five years ago Youhana was just one of the long list of players being tried by the national cricket officials to bolster the team’s batting line-up. Today Youhana is widely regarded as their most dependable batsman. An orthodox but extremely stylish batsman, Youhana will be one of Pakistan’s key players in South Africa.

Inzamam-ul-Haq

This big fella knows what it feels like to help win his team the World Cup. The Multan-born master blaster was just a fresh-faced youngster when he appeared in the Cup over a decade ago in Australia and New Zealand. But most of his rivals will not forget the sight of this otherwise lethargic giant whacking the bowlers to become one of the stars of the 1992 World Cup. This could be Inzamam’s last chance to repeat those heroics and help Pakistan win back the crown. He is still a very dangerous batsman and together with Youhana, forms the backbone of Pakistan’s batting.

Shahid Afridi

Arguably the world’s most powerful hitter, Afridi remains the most unpredictable player in the most unpredictable team competing in the World Cup. Since making his debut in 1996-97 in Kenya, when he hit the fastest ever century, Afridi has never managed to shed the tag of being an unreliable batsman. It is only because he plays some good innings once in a while and can be a useful bowler that the youngster manages to keep his place in the national team. In the World Cup he will be needed to score fast runs consistenly, and also support Saqlain Mushtaq in the spin department.

Abdur Razzaq

At just 23, Razzak is still very young. But the Lahore-born all-rounder has already achieved a lot. He has scored over 2000 runs and has taken over 150 wickets in one-day internationals. Rated as one of the world’s best all-round players, Razzak is an important member of the team. In a brittle batting line-up, he can be crucial. Razzak will also have to contribute as a medium pacer.

Azhar Mahmood

The Rawalpindi player is one cricketer who has achieved a lot less than he was supposed to. Since 1997 when he made a great Test debut by scoring an unbeaten century and a 50 against visiting South Africa, Azhar’s performance graph has steadily gone down. Mostly, the culprit has been his fitness. But now that he has recovered and is back in the side, a lot is expected from Azhar for whom South Africa has been a fairly happy hunting ground.

Rashid Latif

Playing his last tournament, Rashid Latif is an experienced hand. He is easily one of the most capable wicket-keepers in international cricket and is also a useful batsman down the order. Since he has been selected ahead of former skipper Moeen Khan and rookie Kamran Akmal, Rashid needs to justify his presence in the World Cup squad.

Wasim Akram

Easily one of the greatest cricketers playing in this competition, Wasim is the only bowler to have taken more than 400 wickets in both Test and one-day cricket. In fact, he just needs 10 more wickets to become the first man in one-day cricket to reach the magical 500 wicket mark. The only problem with Wasim is that he is in the twilight of his career. He is not the sort of quick bowler he once was, something that begs questions about his selection in the team. Wasim, however, overcomes that handicap with his vast experience and shrewd scheming. Even today he can be a dangerous bowler to face with his swinging yorkers and can be a useful batsman with his pinch-hitting abilities.

Waqar Younis

The skipper, like his bowling partner, is almost over the hill and now has to rely more on his experience than pace to get his wickets. The Burewala Express has lost most of his speed, but he always compensates for that problem by bringing a lot of variation to his bowling. His biggest test will, however, come as a captain and not as a strike bowler. He is at the helm of a side that has seen a lot of turbulence and is notorious for its unpredictability. How Waqar controls his boys will have a lot of impact on Pakistan’s performance in the tournament.

Mohammad Sami

This promising youngster has earned a spot in the squad in the presence of a number of more experienced pacers which is a big achievement for this unassuming 21-year-old from Karachi. Still in a very early stage of his career, Sami needs some experience. He is fast but tends to be a bit inaccurate, which is something a bowler can be so cruelly punished for, by batsmen in one-day cricket.

Saqlain Mushtaq

he experienced off-break bowler has been a bit off-colour in recent months. His ‘mystery balls,’ the ones that drift away from right-handed batsmen, have become less dangerous and that is a big cause of concern for him and his team-mates. But Saqlain is a man who likes to surprise his opponents. He might have a few aces up his sleeves when he takes the field during the World Cup.

Shoaib Akhtar

If only this exceptional fast bowler from Rawalpindi manages to perform according to his full potential during the entire course of the tournament, Pakistan will be a formidable opponent for any side in the tournament. Considered to be the fastest bowler in the world alongside Australia’s Brett Lee, Shoaib has time and again proved the fact that sometimes just brute force can work wonders in international cricket. His lightning deliveries, sometimes bowled at a speed that almost touches the 100 mile an hour mark, have given even the best batsmen in the world nightmares.

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.