Could Pakistan Spring A World Cup Surprise?
Despite their build-up being rocked by suspensions and injuries, Jibran Khan Niazi believes Pakistan might just surprise a few people at the 2015 Cricket World Cup.
The World Cup is the game's biggest show and many cricket analysts are considering Australia, South Africa and New Zealand to be the favourites in view of their overall performance.
Undoubtedly the co-hosts have the benefit of playing at home but don't discount the Asian teams, particularly Pakistan, as despite the problems summarised above, they have the potential to register major upsets.
Off-spinner Jibran Khan Niazi has played first-class and one-day cricket for Sargodha, also playing for Pakistan University Grants Commission and Faisalabad.
Pakistan’s squad is a combination of experienced, battle-hardened players as well as some new players who are not fully conversant with the grounds of Australia and New Zealand.
Pakistan will hope key men such as Shahid Afridi, Misbah-ul-Haq, Younus Khan, Ahmad Shahzad and Mohammad Hafeez may turn the game in their favour. Afridi may be the only genuine all-rounder but Haris Sohail has the potential to click.
Pakistan must cope without renowned off-spinner Saeed Ajmal while Hafeez, who was able to bowl with the new ball and keep things tight, is also unable to bowl.
Ajmal is not part of the squad but Hafeez has been included on the basis of his performance as an opening batsman and there is still a ray of hope about his bowling and if he is cleared by the ICC, it will add something to a feeble bowling squad. He is not an easy bowler to go after.
Pakistan has traditionally earned victories on the back of their star bowlers but this time it lacks this quality. Pakistan has only one genuine fast bowler in Mohammad Irfan but his fitness and fielding are concerns.
Similarly, Wahab Riaz's fitness is doubtful. Ehsan Adil and Rahat Ali have been added as replacements for Umar Gul and Junaid Khan and are under pressure but if the skipper manages to instil some confidence in the youngsters, they may show some good performances.
In case any more fast bowlers suffer injuries, Pakistan may need to turn to Mohammad Sami who is a senior fast bowler but I don't understand why the PCB ignored him and relied on Ehsan Adil, who is not familiar with Australia and New Zealand and struggled in the two matches he played against New Zealand.
I honestly feel that Sami would have been the best option to replace Gul. Now Ajmal's action has been cleared, he could come into the squad as an injury replacement but he would be under enormous pressure as he still has to work to perfect his new action.
Pakistan's World Cup squad
Mohammad Hafeez, Ahmed Shehzad, Younus Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq (c), Haris Sohail, Umar Akmal, Sohaib Maqsood, Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), Shahid Afridi, Mohammad Irfan, Sohail Khan, Wahab Riaz, Ehsan Adil, Yasir Shah, Rahat Ali
Being a professional cricketer and knowing the temperament and potential of Pakistani side I am of the opinion that Pakistan is in a position to surprise despite the inconsistent batting line-up and feeble bowling squad.
It is interesting to comment about performance of its players but difficult to predict as Pakistan could, if they perform to their best, beat the likes of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
Pakistan has historically produced its tremendous performance and astonished the world by winning the crucial games. It has Ahmed Shehzad, the talented Umar Akmal and dependable veterans Younus and Misbah, and Afridi is expected to play a key role, especially in the absence of quality all-rounders.
While his "Boom Boom" batting remains unpredictable, if he gets his eye in, he can thrash even the best of bowlers. Afridi's 10 overs have been the backbone of Pakistan's ODI team for the past few years now and he has a knack of breaking partnerships and is a threat to any team.
Hafeez and Shahzad must give Pakistan a good start and if middle-order batsmen Younus, Misbah, Akmal and Afridi can build their innings and play according to thetheycircumstances, it will give tough time to any team.
The first match, against arch-rivals India will be nerve-shaking and Pakistan will be giving everything to win this match to start the pool stage with confidence.
Pakistan is heavily reliant on the batting of Misbah and Younus in what will be their ODI swansongs as they have announced their decision to quit, so they will be desperate to make their last show memorable.
Pakistan has dangerous players which may leave the competition wide open but can this team can go all the way? Legendary spin bowler Saqlain Mushtaq says that this Pakistani team are "fighters who were unwilling to give up easily".
Pakistan's World Cup fixtures
15th February: India, Adelaide Oval
20th February: West Indies, Christchurch
1st March: Zimbabwe, Brisbane
4th March: United Arab Emirates, Napier
7th March: South Africa, Auckland
15th March: Ireland, Adelaide Oval
He further added that there was something "unique" about this side which had shown "propensity" to come back after several disappointing performances, adding that India must be "careful of Pakistan’s killer instinct as they could do wonders on their day".
Pakistan may have not played at home since 2009 but they go into the World Cup with a positive mindset, aiming to win the hearts of cricket lovers. The players will be true ambassadors for the country as it battles against internal and external threats - perhaps they will be able to convince international players to once again tour their country?
We can but hope, and while there remains plenty of work to do at home to revive domestic cricket and ensure a strong future for the game, right now, the focus is on a strong World Cup performance because that can go a long way to inspiring the next generation.
© Cricket World 2015