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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Keen to prove a point

No other team in the World Cup carries as much baggage as 1992 champions Pakistan. Security concerns at home, which have kept foreign teams away, bribery charges against players, dressing-room intrigues and a wicketkeeper fleeing the team hotel because of alleged threats-Pakistan cricket has seen much drama in the last two years.

 Yet it is testimony to the instinctive and unpredictable nature of Pakistani cricketers that no one is willing to write them off in this World Cup — at least not yet.

In 1992, Pakistan had all but packed to fly home from Australia after losing to the West Indies, India and South Africa before a series of strong performances and a result between Australia and West Indies going in their favour led to them winning the trophy under Imran Khan.

Hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis are praying for a similar outcome this time, despite all the problems facing the team, and Imran is among the believers.  "You never know. Sometimes in such times of desperation and adversity it brings out the best in a team and Pakistan has always been unpredictable so don't write them off," he said.

Pakistan's troubles hit the headlines again just before the World Cup, when former Test captain, Salman Butt and pace bowlers Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif were banned by an International Cricket Council (ICC) tribunal after being found guilty of spot-fixing.

It is only in recent months that the team has shown a semblance of order in their performances. Led by experienced all-rounder Shahid Afridi, they narrowly lost one-day series to England and South Africa before beating New Zealand to win a one-day series for the first time in more than two years.

Coach Waqar Younis has slowly built up a solid one-day combination of experience and youth that has given hope that Pakistan could perform well in the World Cup.  Pakistan will rely heavily on their specialist one-day all-rounders, Afridi and Abdul Razzaq, who between them have played more than 560 one-day matches.

The bowling is well served by the enigmatic Shoaib Akhtar who leads a pace battery of talented southpaw Wahab Riaz and the seasoned Umar Gul.   The spin department is also well covered with two specialists, Saeed Ajmal and Abdul Rehman.
Pakistan's batting has been prone to crack without warning and will depend heavily on the seasoned pair of Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq in the absence of Mohammad Yousuf, who was left out of the squad. Misbah was in sublime form in New Zealand with five half centuries.

Young guns Umar Akmal and Ahmed Shehzad will provide the batting firepower. 
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