Ads 468x60px

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Expect the unexpected

On February 23, Pakistan will take the field to kick off a campaignthat proved to be utterly beyond them four years ago. The tragedywhich befell upon the Pakistan team during that World Cup was matched only by the carnivalesque nature of its surroundings.
To say we have come a long way since then, truly hell and back at least thrice over, is an understatement. The fact that we have made it here in one piece is a minor miracle.
How did this come about? Look no further than the players themselves, each and every one of whom form an integral part of the whole and are collectively capable of inspiring us to World Cup glory.
Personally, the most exciting prospect of this World Cup is watching our openers. I don’t know how it happened, but we have managed to unearth the most promising opening combination we have had since the 1996 World Cup (face it, Saeed Anwar and Shahid Afridi never clicked in 1999 and Wajahatulla Wasti was a poor man’s Azhar AliMohammad Hafeezand Shehzad may well be capable of being individual stars in their own right but, more importantly, together they inspire a confidence at the top of the order that we have lacked for almost a decade.
Hafeez seems to have finally compartmentalized the disparate bits and pieces of his substantial talent and emerged as a genuine all-rounder, taking over the mantle of our most reliable batsman from Salman Butt. His off-spin is priceless, particularly during Afridi’s off-days, and he adds balance to the playing 11. While, Ahmed Shehzad elicits from me the kind of unabashedly gleeful sense of expectation that I previously reserved for one Imran Nazir. The difference being, however, that there is something much more enduring about Ahmed Shehzad’s talent as compared to the ephemeral promise of Nazir. Let us thank the heavens that someone realised the Shahzaib Hasan experiment wasn’t working and allowed Shehzad to play with the carefree fearlessness of youth which makes for such intoxicating viewing.
For Shoaib Akhtar, this tournament represents his last opportunity to ascribe greatness to his name. More than 10 years ago he entered the World Cup as that generation’s Mohammad Amir and by all counts was positioned to become the greatest fast-bowler of his era. It never happened. Twenty years from now only a couple of YouTube clips of the Colombo massacre and the Tendulkar-walli ball will serve as reminders of what once could have been. Shoaib is acutely aware that if he can somehow help the team lift this trophy, it would be the one redeeming entry in his resume which would elevate his name into the pantheon of Pakistan cricket’s greatest fast bowlers.
In Pakistan cricketing lore, it is practically sacrilege to doubt a Khan. For all of Shahid Afridi’s good-natured diplomacy during and after the captaincy conundrum, our leader must feel unfairly chastised. Forget cornering a measly tiger; you are out of your freaking mind if you are thinking of cornering a Khan. History has proven that they will lash out at you with enough unbridled power to extinguish a thousand suns.
Afridi is a talisman in every sense of the word and that alone qualifies him to lead the team regardless of tactical nous or whether he can keep up with Misbah-ul Haq in a business school seminar. The team feeds off his enthusiasm and, when he performs, the side is swept up in the wave of his unrelenting competitiveness. It is this wave that the Pakistan team will attempt to ride all the way to the trophy.
A lot of pessimists will tell you that our batting has come together right when our bowling is at its lowest ebb. That is an absolute disservice to the likes of Wahab Riaz, Abdur Rehman, Saeed Ajmal, Abdul Razzaq and Umar Gul and it is difficult not to dismiss this view as a bitter reaction to being deprived of Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif. To the surprise of everyone, Riaz has gradually transformed himself into our best fast-bowler, capable of touching 90 mph and moving the ball both ways. Rehman and Ajmal are world-class spinners and, with the absence of Sohail Tanvir, choosing which spinner to play is a good problem to have. Among the spearheads, Umar Gul is relatively the weakest link given his inconsistency. However, this is a player who just won an award for a spell he bowled in an ODI a few short months ago and could walk into any squad on the strength of talent and expectation alone. Razzaq’s innocuous yet precise offering may tempt openers into playing an injudicious stroke; even if they don’t, are you really going to leave Razzaq out of our team? If there is even a faint chance of him repeating the Abu Dhabi fireworks once throughout the entire tournament, I would play him all the way through. So, no. I disagree that this is a weak bowling line-up. Especially when you consider that last time around our attack was composed of Mohammed Sami, Danish Kaneria and Rao Iftikhar. So be a little grateful.
There are countless other narratives strewn within this squad.
Umar Akmal, the wunderkind who fell away. Will he use this stage to officially announce himself much the same way Ronaldinho?
Misbah, the enigma. Four years ago, when everyone had forgotten he existed, he surfaced to almost win us aWorld Cup. Then, when everyone wished he had never existed, he returned to lead us to a historic test triumph. Will he provide the stability and single-minded resolve that can direct the explosive talent which surrounds him towards a place in the finals.
The possibilities are limitless for this team. Take a step back and think about it – how can you not be excited? It is intriguing to consider whether the impact each player is undoubtedly capable of making can be collectively sustained over six weeks to ensure us the most unimaginable of triumphs. Underestimate this team at your own peril because the more unlikely it is for us to take home the prize, the more realistic our chances become.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...