Pakistan grapple with F-factor ahead of World Cup

Published: Tuesday, February 20, 2007, 23:53 [IST]
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Karachi:Fitness and fielding hold the key if Pakistan want to turn their huge potential into success in the World Cup in the Caribbean.

Pakistan have had a dismal build-up to their Cup campaign as question marks hang on the fitness of key bowlers Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammad Asif and Umar Gul, with fears that none could feature.

"The F-factor is crucial, the fitness of the players is concerning," said coach Bob Woolmer.

"Our attack could be excellent with Akhtar, Gul, Asif and Abdul Razzaq with Danish Kaneria, Shoaib Malik and Mohammed Hafeez as back-up bowlers."

"There is no doubt in my mind if the first three were fit together then Pakistan would be a real force."

Akhtar is battling with a knee injury while Asif may have a recurrence of an elbow problem.

The pair are also required to clear pre-World Cup dope tests, the reports of which come on March 1. If they fail the tests, they face posible life bans.

Both were banned for doping in November after testing positive for the steroid nandrolone but they had their bans controversially lifted on appeal.

Gul, one of Pakistan's best bowlers over the last 12 months, is also racing against time as his fractured ankle needs time to heal. Pakistan has until March 2 to replace any injured player.

Former paceman Sarfraz Nawaz said the chances of Akhtar and Asif featuring in the World Cup are slim.

"I fear Akhtar and Asif will not play and if this happens Pakistan's attack will be below mediocre. It would be a repeat of World Cup 2003," said Nawaz, referring to Pakistan's bitter first round exit four years ago.

Captain Inzamam-ul-Haq, who was one of the flops of the last World Cup with just 19 runs in six matches, said gruelling schedules had taken their toll on the players.

"Even a batsman like me finds it hard to keep the level of fitness, so it is worse for the fast bowlers. We need to have the best and fittest players for the World Cup," said Inzamam, a member of Pakistan's only side to win the World Cup in Australia in 1992.

Without Akhtar, Pakistan struggled on their pre-World Cup tour of South Africa where they lost the Tests 2-1 and one-day series 3-1.

They showed their usual flaws of either failing to retain their intensity or succumbing to self-destructive frenzies - both of which Woolmer hopes will not haunt them in the Caribbean.

"I believe what happened in South Afica will not hurt us. We have to make sure we are confident and well prepared, and it is up to the players to show mental strength," said Woolmer, who took over as coach two years ago.

Woolmer, who coached South Africa in the 1996 and 1999 World Cups, managed to build the team yet the consistency factor is still missing.

Despite luring fomer South Afican fielding maestro Jonty Rhodes for a two-week training stint last year, the Pakistanis still lack agility and accuracy in the field.

Wicket-keeper Kamran Akmal had a dismal period as he fumbled catches and erred in stumpings and needs confidence.

With continuous problems top of the order, Inzamam, Mohammad Yousuf and Younis Khan will be under constant pressure to score.

Dashing allrounder Shahid Afridi and Razzaq can destroy any attack - on their day.

However, Afridi will miss the first two matches in the Caribbean after being hit with a suspension following an altercation with a fan in South Africa.

Pakistan are in the same group as the West Indies, Zimbabwe and debutants Ireland in the first round.

They are capable of crossing the first hurdle, but the round of eight will present the real test.

Legends to give pep talk to WC-bound Pak squad: Leaving no stone unturned in its preparation for the World Cup, the Pakistan Cricket Board has called on former greats Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Javed Miandad to give winning tips to Inzamam-ul Haq's side before their departure to the Caribbean next month.

''The Chairman PCB invited the former greats to visit the Pakistan Cricket team and give pep talks and advise them on fine-tuning their strategies for the forthcoming World Cup,'' a PCB spokesman was quoted by the Associated Press of Pakistan as sayng.

The spokesman said the PCB chief was confident of a good show at the World Cup but wants the former players to boost the morale of the team with their experience.

Apart from Akram, Imran and Miandad, others who have been called include Intikhab Alam, Zaheer Abbass, Hanif Mohammad and Mushtaq Mohammad.


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