When Pakistan came to South Africa at the end of last year they were on the back of an immensely successful tour of Zimbabwe, who they’d thrashed in both Tests and ODI’s (5-0). Their batsmen made a lot of runs, and much was expected of their tour here. It failed to materialise, however, and they lost the Test series 2-0 and the ODI series 4-1.
That one victory they recorded was extraordinary—they played like a team possessed, and beat the South Africans with ease—which is the peculiar anomaly that is Pakistani cricket.
The Pakistanis either win or they lose, and whichever it is they do it Big.
No mucking about with tight run chases; breathless final overs; unbearably tense last-ball results. If they win they do so in glorious fashion, and if they lose they slide all the way down the drain to Karachi. Always one extreme.
Their star players are always the ones to perform, the second-stringers always remain second-stringers. Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis spearhead the volatile pace attack, and Yousuf Youhana and Inzamam Ul-Haq are the cream of the batting, and everyone else sort of slots in around them.
Pakistan has extremely promising youngsters in the form of the lanky Mohammad Sami, who bowls fast but as yet without much accuracy, and the world’s quickest bowler, Shoaib Akhtar. Shoaib has come on in leaps and bounds of late, but missed the SA tour due to injury. His dangerously in-swinging yorkers at the end of an innings are guaranteed to dislodge either bales or toenails, and he is particularly unpleasant at night.
On the batting front there is the promising Saleem Elahi, who has shown enough to suggest he has a big future ahead of him in Pakistani cricket, and the best batsmen of them all, Yousuf Youhana. Old-timer Inzamam provides explosive innings’s, but all too infrequently, and one gets the feeling that a combination of young batters and older, wily bowlers will be the best way forward for the Pakistanis this World Cup.
Pakistan won the 1992 World Cup, beating India by 22 runs in Melbourne, but the inspirational Imran Khan was part of that side, and once he retired from cricket Pakistan were never the same. Despite the contributions of top players like Wasim and Waqar, ill-discipline and in-fighting struck the Pakistani side in the nineties, culminating in all sorts of accusations of ball-tampering, match-fixing and other unsporting-like behaviour.
And based on the evidence of the Pakistan tour to SA last year, not much has changed. Coach Richard Pybus was thought to have pulled the side back together, but this was proved otherwise during the tour, and all that can really save them now is the return of star players Shoaib, Wasim, Saeed Anwar and Azhar Mahmood (the wily allrounder who has played consistently well on South African wickets, and indeed against South Africa in general).
Pakistan’s biggest boost to their batting comes from World Cup veteran Saeed Anwar, who hasn’t featured in the side since pretty much the last World Cup. He’s been brought in to give a boost to the shaky top order, and on top of his incredible career stats of 242 matches, with 8 605 runs, 19 centuries and 43 fifties, and an average of just over 38, Saeed has the enviable record of an average over 50 in World Cups, from 16 matches played. His best ODI score of 194 is one of the highest of all time, and if he’s in form, the bowlers are firing around him, and the bookies stay away, the Pakistanis will present a formidable challenge this time round.
Their kingpin will be captain Waqar Younis, who will need to reign in any discord, keep the team happy, and produce vicious reverse swing at the business end of an innings to skittle over tailenders, or dry up run chases.
All things considered—on paper Pakistan are an immensely dangerous team, but whether they have the stomach for the whole affair is something you’ll have to bet on.
12th Man’s Pakistan Tip
I don’t think Pakistan are going to get beyond the group stages—it’s between them, England and India as to who goes into the Super Six, with one losing out. I will always back India based on the sheer class of their lineup, and having watched both England and Pakistan play in recent times I have no doubt that England is the better side.
That being said, Pakistan have traditionally done well in World Cups, and well they should do—if you had to travel back home to the disappointed millions who see your failures as a personal affront, you’d no doubt also find the incentive. General or historic form means nothing come World Cup time, as all teams are there with a single-mindedness that borders on the fanatical.
On their day Pakistan will make any side in the world appear to be bumbling incompetents, and the only good news for fans of other countries is that they don’t usually have a consistent enough run of good form to win the big ones.
The game to watch will be their opener against Australia in Johannesburg—they will be looking to dispel the Great Aussie Myth, while the Australians will be wanting to send out a message of terror and bloodshed to come.
My money’s on Aus. Call me conservative.
Meet The Team:
They Play Against:
Tuesday 11/02: Australia (Johannesburg, day)
Sunday 16/02: Namibia (Kimberley, day)
Saturday 22/02: England (Cape Town, D/N)
Tuesday 25/02: Netherlands (Paarl, day)
Saturday 01/02: India (Centurion, day)
Tuesday 04/03: Zimbabwe (Bulawayo, day)
Bookies (Bet365): 10/1