Cape Town: The unpredictable Shahid Afridi could return to the Pakistan team for its crucial World Cup match against England at Newlands on Saturday. But England captain Nasser Hussain is a doubtful starter for a match, which neither team can afford to lose. There is an effective five-team scrap for three Super Six places, with Australia, Zimbabwe and India all ahead of Saturday's contestants in the Group 'A' table.
Hussain was still suffering from a sore neck on Thursday after being forced to miss Wednesday's match against Namibia in Port Elizabeth. All-rounder Ian Blackwell was also doubtful because of an injured back but left-arm slow bowler Ashley Giles could make his first appearance of the tournament after recovering from tonsillitis. Afridi, scorer of the fastest One-day International century in history but prone to get himself out early because of his all-out attacking style, could displace fellow all-rounder Abdul Razzaq, who has not been in good form lately.
A key player for Pakistan is likely to be Saeed Anwar, who made an inconclusive return to international cricket when he scored 23 against Namibia in Kimberley on Sunday. Anwar, 34, was recalled to the Pakistan team for the World Cup after two seasons of frustration while he battled a stress fracture in his left hand. But the left-hander, who has scored 19 One-day International centuries, missed his team's first match against Australia after being hit out on the left arm by a delivery from fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar in the nets before the tournament.
Pakistan is expected to promote Inzamam-ul-Haq to number three in its batting order to ensure its two most experienced batsmen, Anwar and Inzamam, have the best possible opportunity to stamp their authority on the game. Pakistanis have so far failed to make the good starts they need to give their attacking middle and lower-order batsmen a licence to go for big shots. Meanwhile, the loss of Hussain would be a big blow for England, which is already short of specialist batsmen.
Opener Marcus Trescothick, regarded as a future England captain, despite being overlooked for veteran Alec Stewart for the leadership role against Namibia, said, "It is a make or break game for us. We're as prepared as we can be." England made its own task more difficult by boycotting its match in Harare, forfeiting the points to Zimbabwe.
With Australia already well placed to top the group after wins against Pakistan, India and The Netherlands, England needs to beat Pakistan and India to have a realistic chance of finishing in the top three. Pakistan practised under lights at Newlands on Thursday for what will be its only day-night match in the first round of the tournament, while England had a day off following its match against Namibia on Wednesday.