Feb 21 - 27, 20

Former CEO PCB Arif Ali Khan Abbasi preferred chose to walk on thin ice when he spoke about Pakistan's chances in the 9th edition of cricket world cup which began February 17. Speaking on the crucial issue, he said Pakistan team does not look like semi final material but conceded when told about the unpredictable nature of the team and the sport.

Yes, things could be different if one look at the freakish nature of the game more particularly in a limited overs match but purely from a technical point of view Pakistan do not look like going beyond the quarter final stage. The new format of the competition may give Pakistan a place in the last eight but after that it would be sheer luck, he said.

He said he was basing his prediction on the past performances of the team in the last two world cups when it was ousted in the first stage after losing to weak teams and its preparation for the current edition. Pakistan was ousted in the first round from the last two editions in South Africa and in the West Indies where it suffered its most traumatic moment after the "murder" of coach Bob Woolmer.

Preparation leading up to the cup was not convincing. The captain was picked just three weeks before first match and the choice was debatable. The captain has been picked on his hitting reputation and his popularity amongst the fans. These two qualities do not make one an intelligent skipper.

Shahid Afridi lacked the smart knowledge of the game, lacked quick thinking when inside the ground, and even the management which is supposed to help him had not shown any brilliance.

Moreover, his behaviour on the field in Australia when he bit the ball in full view of 20 TV cameras sent wrong signals and gave birth to the conspiracy theory that he may have done it for some specific purpose.

Though it may not be correct but after the game earned disrepute due to match and spot fixing, people read more into what they see.

He said now as the cup is upon every fourteen teams in the fray one should look closely at what awaits the Pakistan team. After recent spot fixing scandal which consumed three of its players Pakistan should watch its flanks and the back to save it from any more embarrassment.

People in and around the cricket match venues would be lying in wait to create incidents that could catch the Pakistanis unawares. And more over the ICC ACU unit would be spending extra time watching the Pakistanis in Colombo, which is just a crows flight from Mumbai where lies the throne of leading betting kings in the world.

One knows not what training and special briefing had been given to the team but the team players as individuals and as teams should be aware of booby traps that may be laid for them. Sri Lanka is a free society where players could have good time, he said.

Its is unfortunate but its true that the team should refrain from all kinds of enjoyment and concentrate on matches only for their sake and for the sake of the country which could not afford another scandal.

He feared some of the opponents who feel threatened of Pakistan would stoop low to do any thing that may upset Pakistanis to get the result in their favour.

Teams may apply the age-old trick of sledging as a playing tactic. Though with the presence of a number of TV cameras, it would be difficult but still the chances are that words could be muttered and signs made to disturb the concentration. He gave the example of French football skipper Zidane who in a crucial world cup match went wild with rage when an opponent used insulting words. Zidane had his revenge but was sent out and the opponents trick succeeded. France lost that match.

Though at some times it may look harmless but an insulting word was enough to disturb the concentration of a well entrenched batsman and caused him to play rashly to lose his wicket at crucial time. Even the selection of the team for the cup is not win oriented. Excluding spinner like Danish Kaneria who could provide the winning punch and that of batsman Taufeeq Umar and pacer Sohail Tanveer look poor selection. A half fit Shoaib Akhtar has made part of the team but a useful Sohail Tanveer has been dropped on lack of fitness plea.

Spinners would play critical role on the low and duty pitches of the subcontinent. India has already opted for a number of good spinners but Pakistan has dropped a good spinner in Kaneria. Pakistan lacked proper thinking in picking its team. Instead of crying over the split milk the team management should try to get the best out of the team. Touring New Zealand which have English like playing conditions, he said was not good strategy as preparation for an important contest held once every four years.

Playing in the heat and humidity of Sri Lanka has always been trying and testing. Pakistan has to quickly adjust to Lankan conditions before it was too late. They have just one match to adjust to new playing conditions. They are playing Kenya in the opening match at Hambantota a new venue. In a world cup competition, one could not take even a weak team like Kenya for granted. Do not forget that Kenya played in the semi final of the cup when played in South Africa. Pakistan's second match would be at Colombo against Sri Lanka who ravel on their soil. It would be crucial. Victory against the host would boost the moral and any other result would may make situation difficult for Pakistan.

Reaching the quarter finals would be first stage for Pakistan to go forward. However, it would be crucial what ranking Pakistan gets in its pool because it would decide against whom it play its knock out pre semi finals. There are chances that Pakistan may come face to face with India. However, India would make efforts that Pakistan flops at the first stage.

India, Australia, Sri Lanka, England and South Africa are among the front runners for the trophy. Pakistan has to rely on its batting both while setting the target and chasing a target. Pakistani batting has the potential but a right batting order as the time demands and responsible batting in the middle could help the bowlers. The team must remember that matches are won or lost not until the last ball it bowl or the last wicket falls.

It must approach the competition with a positive mindset focused on delivering. They could prove the soothsayers wrong. They could do that only through good performances and with exceptional discipline.