Pak short of confidence ahead of high-voltage India tie

Published: Wednesday, February 26, 2003, 23:53 [IST]
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Johannesburg: Pakistan goes into Saturday's high-voltage World Cup clash against India at Centurion struggling to bowl straight or put bat to ball.

Wasim Akram's marvellous 500-wicket feat or Shoaib Akhtar sending down the fastest recorded delivery in history are a few bright spots in an otherwise insipid display which has seen Pakistan lose to Australia and England. Its only victories so far have come against minnows Namibia and the Netherlands, and it now faces must-win encounters against India and Zimbabwe to qualify for the Super Sixes. Current form may indicate Pakistan will struggle to get there. But write it off at your own peril.

History says so. The talented, but unpredictable Pakistanis have the knack of pulling off surprises when not even their die-hard fans least expect them to. Take, for instance, the 1992 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand when Pakistan came from the blue to win its only title under Imran Khan's leadership. It was on the verge of elimination after losing to the West Indies, India and South Africa. It was saved an embarrassing exit by rain which washed out the game against England at Adelaide after Pakistan was shot out for 74.

But Imran regrouped his troops for the vital clash against hosts Australia at Perth which Pakistan won by 48 runs and went on to defeat Sri Lanka, New Zealand and England to win the title. One inspired day can change the course of the World Cup as Steve Waugh's Australians found to their joy in the last tournament four years ago in England. Australia was down and out when they lost to both Pakistan and New Zealand at the start of the World Cup.

A victory over the West Indies after defeating minnows Scotland and Bangladesh prevented their early exit, while a century by captain Steve Waugh against South Africa booked the semi-final berth. A thrilling semi-final tie against Hansie Cronje's Proteas saw the Australians advance to the final on the basis of a higher finish in the Super Sixes and then annihilated Pakistan in the final. Pakistan is hoping its fortunes will turn against India, the first meeting between the two warring neighbours since June, 2000 after the Indian government banned bilateral cricket matches in protest at Islamabad's alleged support to insurgency in the disputed Kashmir region.

"It's a very important game, not only because we are playing India but also in the context of the tournament," Pakistani captain Waqar Younis said. "We just have to win from here onwards. We have done it in the past and do so again." So far, neither the batsmen or the bowlers have encouraged Pakistan's supporters. Trimmed-down premier batsman Inzamam-ul-Haq appears to have lost his touch while losing weight, groping to score just 10 runs in four innings so far. Hard-hitting opener Shahid Afridi has made only seven runs so far and taken two wickets with his leg breaks.

The test of the batting has been so ineffective that number 11 Shoaib Akhtar tops the team's averages at 72 following his spectacular 43 against England. Wasim's 12 wickets in the tournament makes him the joint leader with Sri Lanka's Chaminda Vaas, while Shoaib has 10 wickets. But the rest of the bowlers have bagged just 13 wickets between them and the problem is magnified by the high number of wides and no balls conceded. Pakistan conceded 41 extras against the Netherlands on Tuesday, the highest in the tournament so far, surpassing their own tally of 31 squandered against Australia. Copyright AFP 2001

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