The thing about Pakistan is that you can choose to ignore them only at your peril. Whatever be the format of the game, this side is always in with a chance. Sure, they may not be favourites to win. But the lowest they are classified is the rag-tag of underdogs or even dark-horses. They are never deemed 'not in contention'. Ever.
With ICC World Twenty20 2012 on the horizon, it would be silly to think that Pakistan do not have a shot at winning their second title in three years. Let us do the math.
They are a dynamic bunch of players who have been gelling well recently under new leadership. Misbah-ul-Haq, as good as his credentials are, isn’t really cut out for the fast paced nature of Twenty20. And therefore, it was good on the selectors to look at alternatives. In comes Mohammad Hafeez and there is a marked difference in how Pakistan have posed themselves on the field. He means business, or atleast cuts a figure that suggests little else. From losing to England in February, they have now gone on to trump Sri Lanka and Australia in the build-up to this tournament.
Perhaps the biggest catalyst is coach Dav Whatmore. Troubled with management issues, they have finally found someone who can keep a tight leash as well as press the desired buttons at the right time. This man has the experience and the wherewithal to string together a winning side, after sieving through their domestic set-up. Sure, the results have come in a trickle. They only have the Asia Cup and a T20 series against Australia to show for in the last six months since he assumed charge. But this isn’t about what they haven’t done in the Test or ODI arena.
T20 is where the deal changes. This slam-bang stuff is right up Pakistan’s alley. It makes Shahid Afridi look a potent threat and if you are still not convinced, rack your memory back to 2009. Man of the Tournament back then, it is the best cricket he has ever played. Never before or afterwards did he appear as threatening and this is individually true of every player in this squad. Imagine what they can achieve collectively, and in conditions that augur well for them.
Saeed Ajmal, the most complete spinner in the world today, showed amply against Australia why Pakistan could come out on in Lanka. Sure, the matches will be played under lights and there will be some dew about. Yet the true nature of these slow wickets will never change. Their sub-continental opponents might find these conditions easy to negotiate but they will certainly trouble the rest.
Bowling alone however will not win them the trophy. They need to back it up with a consistent show in the other two departments – batting and fielding. The latter is one area where they might lack in comparison to, say South Africa or New Zealand, and that puts extra pressure on their batsmen to get runs. They have a good selection of openers in Nasir Jamshed, Imran Nazir, Kamran Akmal and Hafeez himself. Asad Shafiq and Umar Akmal will hold together the middle order with Shoaib Malik, Abdul Razzaq and Afridi to prop them up at the end. Even so, this is their weakest link, for they can always strive to field well as a unit.
The 2009 champions are grouped with New Zealand and Bangladesh in Group D. Both these teams will test their bid for resurgence in this format and it will be a marked pointer in telling us if the right Pakistan side has turned up. For this bunch of players, it is primarily about their will to win.
2012 – WLLLLWWL
23rd February: beat England by 8 runs
25th February: lost to England by 38 runs
27th February: lost to England by 5 runs
1st June: lost to Sri Lanka by 37 runs
3rd June: lost to Sri Lanka by 23 runs
5th September:: beat Australia by 7 wickets
7th September: beat Australia by Super Over
10th September: lost to Australia by 94 runs
Previous Tournament Performances
2007: Runners-up, losing to India by 5 runs in the final
2009: Winners, beating Sri Lanka by 8 wickets at Lord's
2010: Semi-finalists, losing to Australia by 3 wickets
Group D: Pakistan, New Zealand, Bangladesh
September 23rd: Pakistan v New Zealand at Pallekele (1530 Local Time, 1000 GMT)
September 25th: Pakistan v Bangladesh at Pallekele (1530 Local Time, 1400 GMT)
Mohammad Hafeez (captain), Imran Nazir, Nasir Jamshed, Kamran Akmal (wicket-keeper), Asad Shafiq, Shoaib Malik, Abdul Razzaq, Shahid Afridi, Yasir Arafat, Umar Akmal, Saeed Ajmal, Raza Hasan, Umar Gul, Mohammad Sami, Sohail Tanvir
© Cricket World 2012
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