Johannesburg: Pakistan captain Waqar Younis believes reigning champion Australia is rattled at the prospect of facing his team in Tuesday's high-profile World Cup match. "The Australians are panicking and we must cash on it to have a cracking start in the tournament," Waqar said. The finalists of the last World Cup in 1999 go head-to- head at the Wanderers here in a mouth-watering clash between two of the most explosive sides in world cricket. Waqar based his assessment on the recent utterings of Australian captain Ricky Ponting, who said his side's entire focus was on the Pakistan game.
"We can't think any further ahead," Ponting said earlier this week. "If we did, we would not be paying enough attention on what we need to do in our first game. It's about as simple and as complicated as it gets at the moment, our focus is on Pakistan." History suggests Ponting's apprehensions may be justified as defending champions have struggled to make an impact when it comes to the defence of their crown. The West Indies, champions for the second time in 1979, lost its opener four years later to India, which went on to win the World Cup.
The Indians in turn lost to eventual winners Australia in 1987, while New Zealand beat Australia in the opening match of the 1992 World Cup. The 1996 champions Sri Lanka lost to hosts England when the tournament opened at Lord's in 1999. "We will try to continue this trend," said Waqar, facing Australia for the first time in a World Cup game. Australia and Pakistan have a 3-3 record in the World Cup, but the embarrassing eight-wicket defeat in the final four years ago at Lord's still hurts the Pakistanis. Ponting said he was hoping for a similar result, but Waqar would have none of it. When told the Aussies were planning a full-scale assault on Pakistan, Waqar hit back, "We too have a plan to tame them.
If he (Ponting) reminds me of the Lord's final, I will remind him of the Super Challenge series last year which we won on their home turf," the Pakistan captain said. Pakistani wicket-keeper Rashid Latif continued the mind games, saying Australia will pay the penalty for showing former captain Steve Waugh the door. "Dropping Steve Waugh tantamount to dropping the Cup," Latif said, and predicted Tuesday's winner will win the tournament. "As far as I am concerned, this is going to be the match of the tournament," he said. Latif said the Pakistani bowlers should exploit the lack of depth in Australia's batting.
"They will play with four top batsmen and an inexperienced fifth in Jimmy Maher and that could be the crucial factor," he said. Australia will be without batsman Darren Lehmann, serving a five-match suspension for a racial slur during his country's last One-day series, while One-day specialist Michael Bevan is still recovering from a groin injury.