Karachi: Pakistan go into the World Cup as the most enigmatic team because it has the talent to surprise the best and the temperament to lose to minnows. Observers believe that if Waqar Younis's men bridge the gap between their potential and performance, they can be serious contenders for the highest prize in the showpiece event. The team contains a trio of quality fast bowlers in Wasim Akram, Shoaib Akhtar and Younis as well as world-class batsmen in Inzamam-ul-Haq and Yousuf Youhana, but remains as unpredictable as ever. Pakistan stunned world champion Australia in a three-match series last year, but failed to build on the gains as it suffered defeats against the same side at Sharjah in October. The Pakistanis were also routed in both the Test and One-day series in South Africa earlier this season.
"Pakistan should have used the win in Australia as a launching pad for the World Cup," said former captain Rameez Raja. "It did not happen, but I still feel this team has the firepower to match Australia and lift the Cup." That Pakistan was brilliant in one match and brittle in the next was seen during the 1999 World Cup in England where it finished runners-up to Steve Waugh's Australians. Pakistan beat Australia in a league match but lost to lowly Bangladesh, which raised many an eyebrow, as the team was later dragged into a match-fixing inquiry before being cleared. Critics feel that individualism is the main reason for Pakistan's inconsistent shows. They say the team last performed as a unit under the charismatic Imran Khan, who led Pakistan to its only World Cup triumph in 1992 in Australia.
"At times, individual talent in the Pakistani team bulldozes the overall planning," said former captain Intikhab Alam. "Playing as a unit will be the key to winning the Cup." Even Australian One-day skipper Ricky Ponting conceded that if Pakistan plays like it did against his team last year, it could pose a serious threat to his side's chances of retaining the World Cup. Imran was optimistic of Pakistan's chances, saying the team had the resilience to fight back and surprise the main contenders in South Africa. "They (Pakistan) looked a disjointed side on their recent tour of South Africa, but I still feel resilience has been the team's forte and they can bounce back," he said. "It all boils down to how you take pressure and Pakistan, in 1992, proved it can handle pressure.
Now it's up to this team to stage a comeback." Pakistan has one of the best bowling attacks at its disposal, with ace off spinner Saqlain Mushtaq and seamers Abdur Razzaq and Azhar Mahmood backing the fearsome pace trio. "We have the best bowling attack in the world and if we beat Australia in the first match, there will be no looking back," said Akram, the only bowler in the world to bag more than 400 wickets in both Tests and One-dayers. Pakistan is grouped with reigning champions Australia, England, India, Zimbabwe, Namibia and The Netherlands in the preliminary league. The top three teams advance to the Super Six. Batting appears to be Pakistan's main worry despite the presence of hard-hitting Inzamam and dependable Youhana in the middle-order. The return of veteran opener Saeed Anwar augurs well for Pakistan, but the batting still lacks consistency. Pakistan: Waqar Younis (captain), Inzamam-ul Haq, Saeed Anwar, Taufiq Umer, Saleem Elahi, Younis Khan, Yousuf Youhana, Shahid Afridi, Abdul Razzaq, Azhar Mahmood, Wasim Akram, Rashid Latif, Mohammad Sami, Shoaib Akhtar and Saqlain Mushtaq.