Can Pakistan really win this World Cup?
I was one of many who severely doubted their chances at the outset of this tournament. After all, they had a disastrous run up to the Cup. Two of their world class bowlers were lost to a fixing scandal. Their board chief seemed more intent on spreading conspiracy theories than doing anything useful for the team. There was also the confusion over the captaincy, with the board not finalizing the skipper, till a couple of weeks before the tournament started.
Coming to the team itself, I didn’t believe that the batsmen will be reliable enough for the duration of this tourney. To some point, that has been vindicated with no Pakistan batsmen in the top 20 highest run getters. I also believed that apart from Gul and Afridi, they didn’t have enough firepower to bowl out or contain the opposition. In that regard, I was partially right. Seems, Gul and Afridi with a little help from Hafeez and Rehman is all they need.
While many like to tag the Pakistan team as ‘unpredictable’ (the same way the Saffers will always be considered ‘chokers’), there has been nothing unpredictable about this side. I suspect that this is due to the wise heads of the coach and manager. Together with the wild Afridi, they have fashioned a team which has had clear game plans for each match and who seem intent on proving their detractors wrong. West Indies was just a footnote in a surprisingly consistent campaign so far, and suddenly despite the presence of Sri Lanka and South Africa, Pakistan can consider themselves as serious contenders for the Cup.
So, what is the secret? What do they have, that the top ranked sides like India and Australia do not look as confident as Pakistan? For one, they have a talented and varied bowling attack which is the envy of the aforementioned two teams. Umar Gul has been an underrated bowler for a long time due to the presence of more charismatic and controversial fast bowlers, but in this World Cup, he has risen to the occasion and set the tone for the rest of the attack. Shahid Afridi cannot be considered a batsman or an allrounder any more, but there is no doubt that he is the most dangerous spinner in ODIs. Along with Gul, he has run through all lineups Pakistan have encountered, making the sight of him holding his arms aloft, very common. Hafeez has also been a handy customer with his darting off spin while Rehman and Razzaq have made sure that there is no respite for the opposition. Most importantly, except for the late overs carnage against New Zealand, they have put in consistent performances, game after game.
While the batting may not have been as impressive as the bowling, they have invariably done the job required of them. With the experience of Younis Khan and Misbah backing up the talents of Umar Akmal and Asad Shafiq, they have a middle order who have rarely collapsed in a heap this tournament. And now, in Kamran Akmal and Hafeez, they seem to have stumbled on to an opening pair who have succeeded after umpteen tries; but the biggest reason to hope for Pakistan, is the improved wicket keeping by Kamran Akmal. If he can somehow hold on to every chance that comes his way, Pakistan might have won half the battle.
Pakistan have historically performed well when the world discounts them. It has been a horrid couple of years for them, what with all the bans, scandals, and inability to play international games at home; but it is precisely in these kind of situations, they seem to tap into some hidden reserve of determination and will power to confound their critics. This World Cup has all the makings of another glorious chapter in Pakistan cricket. A player who might never even be considered as a captain in any other side, leading a band of no-hopers to World Cup glory is the stuff dreams and Hollywood movies are made of. Destiny is calling the Pakistan cricket team forward and the time is ripe for Afridi and his boys to grab the moment.
So, can they do it? Can Pakistan win the 2011 World Cup?
As a wise Bieber once said/sang ————— Never Say Never