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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Akhtar to be picked if needed: Afridi

 Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi said he has a surprise plan in place to tame defending champions Australia but refused to say whether retiring pacer Shoaib Akhtar would be a part of the side for Saturday's final Group A match in Colombo or the remainder of the World Cup.
Afridi also rejected suggestions that Akhtar's announcement of retiring after the World Cup would affect the team in any way.
"He (Akhtar) has taken a right decision. He could have announced it after the World Cup, but I don't think the timing is wrong and it won't affect our team," Afridi said here.
The 35-year-old Akhtar has been off-colour and was dropped from the team for its previous group game against Zimbabwe. Afridi said emotions won't play a part in selection and the mercurial bowler would be included only when he is needed in the line-up.
"We have a settled combination and if we need we can play him in the remaining matches," Afridi said.
"Akhtar has won us many games, many series and now he has taken a decision after considering his fitness, so it's his own decision and it's a good decision.
"We selected him in the squad because he can get reverse swing going and he worked really hard to get a place in the squad," he added.
Afridi also denied reports of rift in the ream after Akhtar had a spat with wicket-keeper Kamran Akmal due to a couple of dropped chances in the 110-run loss to New Zealand.
"There was nothing serious between them, there is no breaking news in it," Afridi said about the controversy which led to a $2,000 fine on Akhtar.
"Akhtar was never upset, he is enjoying the World Cup," he added.
Talking about the much-anticipated match, Afridi said Pakistan are ready to stun the four-time world champions with a surprise strategy.
"We have made some plans against them because they are very strong mentally and physically, so you will see in the game we will do something new against these guys," he said.
"We know that this game is very important for us to end in a good position in the group. If we win, we will go into quarters with a win and a good, positive attitude, which is more important," he added.
Afridi said Australia are a top team with quality players.
"They are very professional, they are a good batting and bowling side as well. They know how to bowl reverse swing, especially when Brett Lee comes back and Shaun Tait as well.
"They know how to use these conditions as well. But we know our strengths too, we know how to tackle and deal with these guys so we are well-prepared," he said.

Red-faced Afridi thrilled to beat Australia

 Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi praised his bowlers for his side’s momentous World Cup win over Australia, but admitted shamefacedly that he got out to an irresponsible shot in the run chase.
The defending champions were dismissed for just 176 in 46.4 overs with Brad Haddin top-scoring with 42 and it never looked enough despite a wobble from Pakistan, who slipped to 142-6 at one stage in their reply.
The result ends the defending champions’ unbeaten 34-match World Cup run and means Pakistan capture top spot in Group A.
The bowling star for Pakistan in their four-wicket win was Umar Gul, who took three for 30 in 7.4 overs. Fellow paceman Abdul Razzaq took 2-8 in his four overs.
Umar Akmal then made an unbeaten 44 to see his side to victory.
“We made some good plans against these guys and I think the boys, they all stuck to the plans,” said Afridi, thanking his bowlers for limiting Australia’s batsmen.
“I think Gul and (Abdur) Rehman (1-34) started really well and all the bowlers did a great job and credit goes to the bowlers.”
Questioned about his own dismissal, when he holed out to Brett Lee in the deep off Jason Krejza for two, Afridi held his hands up.
“Don’t ask. That was an irresponsible shot as a captain at a stage like that.”
Afridi was pleased to top the group, which means they will play the fourth-placed team in Group B but he said there were no weak sides in the tournament.
“I don’t think any team is weaker in this competition but this victory was very, very important for us to keep in a good position in the group and I think you can imagine now how we will play the quarter-final with good positive body language.”
Disappointed skipper Ricky Ponting said: “We certainly got a tough game today. We didn’t do ourselves any favours. I thought our batting effort was deeply ordinary.
“We stuck it out really well with the ball. I thought the guys bowled pretty well and gave ourselves a bit of a sniff when they went six down but not enough runs on the board.”
Ponting said his major concern was that Australia had not been pushed hard enough in previous games.
“We’ve all been working hard. We haven’t been pushed in games which is probably our biggest worry but we certainly have been today and I think we can all learn some lessons from the way that we batted today and make sure we do it better next time.”

I played an irresponsible shot: Afridi

Pakistan might have halted Australia's 34-game winning streak in the World Cup here on Saturday but captain Shahid Afridi was angry with his own "irresponsible" batting effort in the game.

Chasing a modest 178 for victory, Afridi (2) once again flopped with the bat as he skied one to Brett Lee at long-on off Jason Krejza with Pakistan still needing 38 runs to win.

"Don't ask me. It was an irresponsible shot from me at that stage," Afridi said after Pakistan defeated title holders Australia by four-wickets in a low-scoring but pulsating league match to top Group A.

The Pakistani captain lauded his bowling attack for restricting Australia under the 200-run mark.

"We made some plans for Australia and I am happy that we stuck to that. The way (Umar) Gul and (Abdur) Rehman started was fantastic. The credit (for this victory) goes to the bowlers," Afridi said.

He also praised young Asad Sahfiq (46) and Umar Akmal (44 not out) for their gritty performance with the bat against the mighty Australian attack.

"They are doing a great job. Both Asad and Umar played mature cricket," Afridi said.

Australia captain Ricky Ponting held his batters responsible for today's shoddy show, which ended their unbeaten run in the World Cup.

"It was certainly good to have a tough game but we didn't do us favours. Our batting was ordinary," Ponting said.

"The wicket was certainly better that 177. We should have got lot more runs," he said.

He, however, said that he was worried about Australia's batting department.

"I am not that worried about. We have been working hard and it was just a one-off day," Ponting said.

He also praised pace spearhead Brett Lee for his impressive four for 28 run spell that brought Australia back into the match after the unimpressive display with the bat.

"He (Lee) bowled really well. He started particularly well and got breakthroughs for us when we wanted," Ponting said off Lee.

Man-of-the-match Umar Akmal, who played a precious 44-run unbeaten innings under trying circumstances during Pakistan's chase, said at no point of time he felt pressure.

"We believed that we can win against Australia. I didn't have any pressure," he said.

"Asad played really well but was little unlucky."

‘Mumbai to welcome Pakistan team for World Cup Final’

The people of Mumbai are ready to welcome the Pakistani cricket team to their city if the latter is successful in reaching the final of the ICC Cricket World Cup of 2011, said veteran Indian journalist and activist Jatin Desai, while addressing an international seminar titled “Progress Needs Peace and Stability” which was organised by the Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology (SZABIST) at the campus auditorium.

“While Pakistani players may be allured by the glitz and glamour of Bollywood, they also remain fearful of Balasaheb Keshav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena and consider it a serious threat to their safety. Despite this fact, we Mumbaikars or Bombayites are ready to welcome the Pakistani team if reaches the ICC Cricket World Cup final and will be more than happy to have them in our city,” said Desai.

The Indian delegate hoped that this year, the ICC Cricket World Cup would end up being a showdown between the teams of Pakistan and India, adding that such an occasion would be appreciated by the youthful, peace-loving cricket enthusiasts of Mumbai.

Desai told the youth attending the seminar that it was imperative to settle differences between India and Pakistan by resuming composite dialogue, which had been stalled since the Mumbai Attacks in 2008. He added that it was the prime responsibility of the youth to promote peace and harmony between the two rival states.

Mazher Hussain, another Indian delegate, while focusing on bilateral relations between the two countries, highlighted that the youth of the both nations are the best agents for bringing peace and stability in the region.

“When I visited Pakistan in 2003, I happen to meet a ninth-grader who blamed the leaders of the time for the unstable relations between the two countries. This made me realise that how the masses, especially the youth, are concerned about the issue,” shared Hussain, Executive Director of the Confederation of Voluntary Associations (COVA) in Hyderabad Deccan.

Hussain acknowledged that South Asia is one of the most volatile regions in the world as there are certain elements that are thriving by making conflict into a growing industry. He added that no progress is possible without peace and believed that the youth can make it likely. “The trend is not going to reverse by itself, but the youth can bring about a positive change,” commented Hussain.

While discussing other matters of concern, including the issuance of Indian visas to Pakistani nationals and vice versa, Hussain suggested that if visas were hard to attain, the people of both counties should rely on social networking websites to communicate in order to maintain ties. “Visiting a place is not important and we should use the latest internet technology to stay connected,” suggested Hussain.

The Indian speakers at the seminar mutually agreed that they felt at home during their visit to Pakistan. However, they added that the main challenge ahead was to eliminate the barriers between the two states.

Former member of the Indian Parliament and Editor of ‘Nai Duniya’, an Urdu daily, Shahid Siddiqui also agreed with his compatriots. But he was disappointed with the attitude of the civil society which, according to him, could easily help influence policymakers to make positive decisions through constant pressure.

“Do not blame your leaders for everything, as you the youth, possess the greatest power of all,” Siddqui said in a firm tone, while pointing to his young audience. He remained hopeful that the younger population of Pakistan could help bring about the change needed to mend relations.

“Our hope is the generation of today. We need to deliver or else we will be dumped into the dustbin of the history,” he warned his listeners.

Shahid Siddqui also believes that visa processing should be made free for students to boost exchange programmes between India and Pakistan.

Panelists Jatin Desai, along with Dr Bhalchandra Mungekar, Member of the Indian Parliament and a leading economist all agreed that both countries are facing identical issues. “Like Pakistan, 77 percent of the Indian population is earning mere Rs 20 a day.”


Pakistan cricket team captain, Shahid Afridi on Friday vowed to unleash a surprise attack against the four-time reigning champions, Australia, in their much-anticipated final league clash of Group A in the ongoing ICC World Cup, 2011.
"We have made some plans against them because they are very strong mentally and physically, so you will see in the game we will do something new against these guys," said Afridi on Friday.
Pakistan have eight points from five games while the defending champions have nine from an equal number of group-stage matches.
Both sides have a chance to top the group by winning the game and enter the knockout stage high on confidence. The other advantage the winner of tomorrow’s game will get is that they will face a relatively weaker opposition from Group B in their quarter-final clash.
Depending on the final permutations of league stage of both groups, the Cornered Tigers could even end up facing arch-rivals India in the quarter-finals.
But the flamboyant Pakistan captain declined to be drawn in the possible placements saying that they will go into tomorrow’s game with a must-win approach. He further added that he has a definite plan to defeat the Kangaroos and break their 34-match winning streak in World Cup which started back in 1999.
"We know that this game is very important for us to end in a good position in the group. If we win, we will go into quarters with a win and a good, positive attitude, which is more important," said the 31-year-old.
The Men in Green under Wasim Akram’s were the last to beat mighty Aussies in a World Cup game in 1999 edition at Leeds; Afridi vowed they will repeat the fiesta on Saturday.
The Pakistan skipper however admitted that the Kangaroos were a strong all-round team. Afridi further added that the Aussies know well how to use the conditions but he was confident of his team’s strengths as well.
The swashbuckling all-rounder confirmed that Umar Akmal is completely fit and hinted that he might make the playing XI against Australia.

Australia wary of Gul and Afridi

Ricky Ponting rates Pakistan as a dangerous side, says Australia will be on top of their game.
By Soumitra Bose in Colombo

Shahid Afridi and Umar Gul will be the men the Australians will be guarding against when Pakistan take on the defending world champions at the Premadasa Stadium in Colombo on Saturday afternoon.

Saying “the World Cup begins now for the Australians”, Ponting said Pakistan’s ability to win big games has been the talking point in Aussie team meetings and it was difficult to pinpoint the main players in the opposition camp.

“However, Gul and Afridi have had standout performances in a team that has many match-winners,” said Ponting, highlighting the importance of Saturday’s game and the way the Aussies are approaching it.

Ponting revealed the team has spoken about Afridi’s ability to control the crucial middle overs and how he stops runs and picks up wickets at the same time. “He can really build up pressure and that is something we have to watch out for. We have to make sure that we have to play him well and show the respect he deserves. He is a world-class bowler,” said Ponting.

“We want to play the best game of the tournament on Saturday,” said Ponting, emphasizing that Australia want to top their group and not worry about whom they play in the quarterfinal round.

Ponting, who has been unbeaten in the ICC Cricket World Cup as skipper since 2003, said Australia must beat the top teams to be labeled as true world champions. On a lighter note, Ponting said: “Our group has been quite boring as nothing much has been happening here compared to the other group.” But Ponting certainly doesn’t want to spoil his unbeaten 34-match winning streak.

Ponting said Australia always play their best cricket on big days and Saturday will be one of them. “We live to play on the edge. We want to be confronted with big situations in tournaments. When you reach the quarterfinal or semifinal, you make sure that you are prepared to play your best game of cricket. The last few World Cups have been exactly like this,” the Aussie skipper said.

Afridi, Ponting praise Akhtar

Pakistan skipper Shahid Afridi said they will play fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar, who announced his retirement from international cricket on Thursday, in the remaining matches if he is fit.

“I think he took the right decision. It was his own decision and because of his bowling Pakistan have won quite a few matches. He has set a good example because in Pakistan normally the selectors kick you out, you don’t leave yourself. I think he has taken his fitness also into consideration. As far as future matches are concerned, if he fits into the combination, we will play him. At the moment, the combination looks good,” Afridi said.
The Peshawari said the timing of Akhtar’s announcement has not affected the team.
“I don’t think it’s bad timing. May be he could have decided it after the World Cup. But it’s up to him. Akhtar with his experience knows how to use the sub-continental conditions, how to get the reverse swing going. He knows how to bowl with the old and the new ball. He really worked hard for the World Cup. He never told anyone that he is upset (with Kamran Akmal). He is enjoying himself.”

Australian skipper Ricky Ponting too paid handsome tributes to Akhtar, with whom he had some memorable battles. “I had some great duels with Shoaib over the years. To this day, I still say he's the fastest bowler that I've ever faced. There's one spell that everyone can watch on the internet of him bowling to me at the WACA. I think Justin Langer who was at the other end was laughing at me while I was trying to keep Shoaib's deliveries out!
“I guess over the years he's probably had his share of injuries that haven't allowed him to play as much as he would have liked. But even in this tournament you could see that he's still got ability with the new ball, he's still got pace. In our team meeting we also spoke about Shoaib and what we need to do against him as well. So congratulations to him on what's been an outstanding career.”

Top spot beckons Australia

 Over the past few days, no seat has been available on the Pakistan International Airlines flight from Karachi to Colombo. Pakistan's crucial, last engagement in the strictly-no-surprises-group in the ICC World Cup against Australia slated on Saturday has attracted quite a few fans and officials from Pakistan.
Not all will get into the stadium to watch the encounter, the last group game for both teams and the last group game in Sri Lanka. The tickets were sold out long ago for the encounter. Now, the crowd will look skyward in prayer — there is rain forecast, and the paying public will hope that a repeat washout will not happen at the R. Premadasa on Poya Day.
The Pakistan team has been practising here over the past few days and are used to the conditions in Sri Lanka since they have played every game here. Australia came down for the ‘washed out' Sri Lanka encounter, went back to India, and again landed here late last night following a flight delay at Bangalore.
Clear-cut team strategy
Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi has his choices very clearly lined out in front of him — another chance for Asad Shafiq, who grabbed his one and only opportunity against Zimbabwe. This would mean that finally, Ahmed Shehzad, who has had a torrid World Cup so far, will have to sit out.
Strangely, Saeed Ajmal, the best spinner in the Pakistan team, will have to miss out though the wicket takes a lot of spin. “If we give a chance to Saeed Ajmal, our batting might be weak. We have a good combination at the moment so we don't want to change,” he said.
Paceman Shoaib Akhtar does not have a confirmed place in the playing XI too. “I think Shoaib Akhtar took the right decision (on retirement). If we need him we will definitely give him a chance,” he said.
Afridi confirmed that Shoaib was dropped from the team for the Zimbabwe encounter after his performance against New Zealand. “Shoaib did not get picked as we know that he knows how to bowl with the old and new ball. I don't think so (that he is upset over being dropped); he never told that he is upset, he is enjoying himself,” he said.
The team was obviously not very happy that Shoaib announced his retirement in the middle of the tournament. “I think it's not a bad timing, he could have said it after the World Cup,” said Afridi.
Australian captain Ricky Ponting described Pakistan as “a dangerous side.” Australia's last loss in a World Cup game was against Pakistan, in 1999. It has not lost a Cup game since then.
For Ponting, the real tournament starts now. Asked about this, he said: “as a team we feel the tournament is kicking off now. We are really excited at playing against Pakistan, during the breaks we have trained really, really hard and well. I think we will get a better feel after tomorrow's game.”
He was aware of the obvious advantage that Pakistan held, having played all their games in Sri Lanka. “All their games have been around the country. It's a bit easy for them. We will be in the best mental and physical state when we play tomorrow,” he said.
The teams (from):
Australia: Ricky Ponting (capt.), Michael Clarke, Callum Ferguson, Brad Haddin, John Hastings, David Hussey, Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson, Jason Krezja, Tim Paine, Steve Smith, Shaun Tait, Shane Watson, Mike Hussey and Cameron White.  
Pakistan: Shahid Afridi (capt.), Mohammad Hafeez, Ahmed Shehzad, Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq, Kamran Akmal, Umar Akmal, Saeed Ajmal, Shoaib Akhtar, Umar Gul, Junaid Khan, Abdul Razzaq, Abdur Rehman, Wahab Riaz and Asad Shafiq.  
Umpires: Tony Hill and Marais Erasmus. Third Umpire: Nigel Llong. Match Referee: Chris Broad.

"The world will miss Shoaib Akhtar"

They may not have been the best of buddies in the dressing room, but Wasim Akram has paid loads of tribute to Shoaib Akhtar in an exclusive chat with Mobile ESPN. Sanjay Manjrekar feels cricket will miss a genuine character and that Akhtar wasn’t actually the ‘bad boy’ of Pakistan cricket.

Speaking from Colombo, Akram said: Shoaib has been an excellent bowler for the last 13 years. When he first played, I made him play against West Indies in 1997 and he was very quick, unplayable at times. I remember in the 1999 tour of India, in the Kolkata Test, where he replaced Waqar, Shoaib got Dravid and Sachin in two deliveries. Since then, he has never looked back. Ask Sourav Ganguly! Ganguly sums it up by saying that Shoaib was the quickest bowler he has ever faced. Coming from a guy like Ganguly, it shows that Shoaib has been an excellent bowler.

Akram said, Shoaib’s strength was his pace. He added: “His weaknesses were his own discipline. At times he was self destructive! However, what he gave to the game was a feel of speed. There was no bowler who could bowl at over 100 miles per hour. Only later Brett Lee and Shaun Tait came. Shoaib was the only one who could actually dismiss batsman by forcing them on the backfoot by his pace. He had the perfect yorker, he had a very good bouncer. He was lethal with the old ball. He had the ability to change Test matches by picking up 5 wickets in half hour and blow sides away.”

Akram said, Akhtar’s decision to quit was “an intelligent one.” He said: “It is for any athlete, in any sport, difficult to assess yourself. I think Shoaib assessed himself perfectly. He knew it was time to go. I think not only Pakistan cricket but world cricket will miss him. He was a character and he still one. Actually people just used to come and watch Akhtar bowl in a stadium, even for practice matches!”

Saying that Akhtar did not fulfill his full potential, Akram said: “People will always remember him as the one of the fastest bowlers the world has ever seen. I wanted him to be remembered as one of the greatest bowlers we have ever seen. The positives are that he was a sight to watch. He has tormented many batsmen in the world. His captains, including me, used to stand at mid-on and have fun watching him bowl.”

Reminiscing on a mercurial career, Manjrekar said Akhtar will be missed dearly. “I feel sad that a fascinating career like Akhtar’s is coming to an end. He has been likeable for more reasons than one,” said Manjrekar.

“When Akhtar was in his prime, I was covering cricket in Pakistan and saw him pick up five wickets against England on a flat wicket once, when batsmen were ducking for cover. He bowled wonderful yorkers. Akhtar was simply brilliant when in form," he added.

Manjrekar also hailed the feistiness in the pacer saying, “He was a typical strike bowler that batsmen would fear and Indians have also been at the receiving end of that. He will be remembered for the fear he put into the opposition with his bowling style.”

“Considering his speed, I’ve always felt that his control over the ball has been brilliant. He is also very street-smart on the field, may not come across as that off the field,” praised the former India Test batsman.

Known as the bad boy of Pakistan cricket, Akhtar always made the headlines for the right as well as the wrong reasons but Manjrekar feels Akhtar was a true sport on the field. “He may have had a lot of issues off the field but on the field, he never looked as bad tempered or someone who flew off the handle. So many times when fielders would drop batsmen off his bowling, he would just shrug his shoulders, smile and carry on,” Manjrekar said.

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