CRICKET UNCERTAINTIES STAND BETWEEN PAKISTAN AND ICC TROPHY

ANISUDDIN KHAN
Oct 05 - 11, 2009

Barring uncertainties miracle maker Pakistan team has all the winning ingredients needed to win the latest 6th edition of the ICC Champions Trophy, a one day 50-over a side competition that is now in its final stages in the rainbow nation South Africa.

In semifinal, Pakistan faced New Zealand at New Wanderer's batsman friendly pitch at Johannesburg. This was not the first time that Pakistan and New Zealand were facing each other in the Trophy since the first edition of the competition was held in 1998 in Bangladesh. New Zealand has made impressive record against Pakistan in the championship.

First time the teams met in the semi final of the second edition played in Kenya 2002 and the Kiwis comfortably won by four wickets. Second time in 2006 they met in the fifth edition of the competition in group match in England and won again comfortably by 51 runs. Statistics show New Zealanders always dominate whenever they meet Pakistan. However the law of averages makes Pakistan favorites against the Kiwis for Saturday's semi final.

If the two teams are compared man to man Pakistan has better bowling, batting and fielding power than the Kiwis and the robust manner Pakistan has played in the competition it makes it favourite to clinch a place in October 5 final first time in the eleven years old competition.

The green caps can legitimately boast of the best batting line and a bowling attack, better than the Kiwis.

Pakistan pace attack was bolstered by the return of drug tainted Muhammad Asif. Umar Gul, Rana Naveed, Muhammad Aamir are other pacers who could turn dreams of world class players into nightmare with their swing, seam, and deceptive toe crushing wicket taking yorkers.

Pakistan's spin department is in no way any inferior to its pace attack. Off spinner Saeed Ajmal and near medium pace leg spinner Shahid Afridi can tie in knots any batsman with their vicious spin which is as lethal as a searing delivery, on the bouncy and spin friendly wickets of the Centurion and the New Wanderers ground, the two venues where all the fifteen matches in thirteen day competition were played.

Pakistan's bating department is as good and strong as is its bowling department. It has patient and stylish batsmen in bearded Muhammad Yousuf, skipper Younis Khan, stalwart Shoaib Malik providing crucial spine to the middle order and sloggers in Kamran Akmal and the Boom Boom Shahid Afridi, with Misbahul Haq, young Umer Akmal and Imran Nazir providing formidable back up to the senior partners in batting.

The fielding which had traditionally been the weakest department of Pakistan team since it started playing test cricket in mid fifties, surprisingly has improved hugely recently. It was evident in the crucial group league match against India when Younus Khan with a direct throw ran Gautam Gambhir run out to start an Indian batting collapse.

The tumbling catch from Muhammad Yousuf and the juggling effort from Umar Gul were top class. It reflected the commitment and the will to fight of the team. Pakistan team has always carried with it the tag of being unpredictable. They can climb a steep hill without breaking sweat against a tough opposition under difficult condition one day but the next day they would collapse in a heap under comfortable condition against a weaker rival.

However in the current competition Pakistanis have been consistent and committed. From the first league match to the last they gave superb performance both individually and as a team with the commitment to win. Though they lost to Australia on the last ball of the match but it looked that the winning run that Pakistan conceded on the last ball was more a friendly act.

Former Australian skipper Greg Chappell giving expert comments on television hinted earlier that Pakistan had deliberately made Australian job easier by giving away singles which could have been stopped. In one of the closing overs when tail enders Brett Lee and Nathan Hauritz were struggling to score, he said "Australians are picking singles and Pakistan is not stopping them". Victory gave the defending champions Australia a semi final berth and ousted India from the title race.

Before Younus Khan and his men left two weeks ago on the African Safari to hunt the second most sought trophy in cricket after the World Cup, they were given hardly any chance by both the book makers and the cricket pundits.

It was almost the same scenario when three months ago Younus Khan took his charge to England for the second T20 World Cup. Pakistan at that time was just stepping on international arena after a long enforced hiatus from international cricket due to security situation at home. No one at that time gave Pakistan a chance though the green caps only couple of years ago had lost the final of the same competition to India in South Africa. But they sprang a surprise then and may do it now.

Almost same situation existed for the ICC Champions Trophy, when Pakistan flew to Johannesburg for the eight nation competition with little training and exposure. They just a few weeks ago had returned home from a Sri Lankan tour badly mauled and bruised. Losing the test as well as the ODI series which was expected to be warm up and good preparation for Pakistan team for South Africa. Pakistan had left behind the ugly memories of Sri Lankan tour and has turned a new page in South Africa which has never been a good hunting ground for them.

After the success of Muhammad Asif, selecting a playing eleven would be tricky task for Pakistan. Mohammad Asif's impressive comeback against Australia had left the Pakistan team management in a fix over the playing eleven for their semifinal.

Pakistan captain Younus Khan has admitted that Asif's successful comeback to international cricket after nearly 17 months, has forced the tour selection committee to engage in lengthy discussions to decide upon the playing eleven for the all-important tie. "We might even decide to play with four specialist pace bowlers in Asif, Rana Naved, Umar Gul and Mohammad Aamer but it all depends on the pitch condition at the Wanderers," Younus said in Johannesburg.

Pakistan rested left arm pacer Muhammad Aamer and opener Imran Nazir in a match against Australia which they lost on the last ball. Nazir was rested because he still had stitches on the webbing of his hand which he tore during the game against India.

Pakistan team picked from Younus Khan (captain) included Misbah ul Haq, Shoaib Malik, Shahid Afridi (vice captain), Muhammad Yousuf, Umer Gul, Fawad Alam, Muhammed Aamir, Saed Ajmal, Kamran Akmal (WK), Imran Nazir, Muhammad Asif, Umer Akmal, Rana Naveed and Rao Iftikhar.