Just a week ago, few would have slated Pakistan among the World Cup favourites — but that was a week ago.
Since then, they have obliterated Kenya by 205 runs and then on Saturday, really showed off their title credentials by beating co-hosts Sri Lanka by 11 runs.
That margin of victory looks slim but Pakistan were in control for most of the Sri Lankan innings and only a couple of late slogs and generously wayward bowling took the co-hosts so relatively close.
In their captain Shahid Afridi, enjoying a new lease of life in this tournament at the age of 30, Pakistan boast one of the most dangerously in-form men of the World Cup.
He has yet to take off with the bat because generally the Pakistan upper order have functioned but his wide, bewildering array of deliveries is making leg spinner Afridi almost unplayable as a bowler on the evidence so far.
Against Kenya he took a World Cup career-best five wickets and followed up with four more on Saturday against Kumar Sangakkara’s far more accomplished batsmen. That included his 300th victim in one-day cricket, fittingly Sangakkara on 49.
How he is relishing this opportunity in the form of the game that surely suits his mercurial talents and nature best.
“It’s a great feeling performing like this,” Afridi said after winning the man-of-the-match award against Sri Lanka on Saturday, in which he became only the 11th player past that 300-wicket milestone in 50-over cricket.
“Three hundred wickets was my goal as an all rounder. It’s a big achievement in one-day cricket.”
Some fans, as ever demanding perfection, have missed his explosive ‘boom-boom’ batting performances in these matches.
“I am missing that too,” he said. “But my first priority is bowling — I want to focus on my bowling first and then batting.
“I think the way I am going and batting for just three overs or four overs, I try to play some big shots. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”
The 1992 World Cup champions will next meet Canada in Colombo on Thursday with the north American cricketing whipping boys likely to be more cannon fodder for Afridi.
However, the skipper promises there will be no complacency, not with their 2007 World Cup shock first-round exit at the hands of Ireland still so fresh and painful in the memory.
“Every game is very important,” he said. “Winning is a very good habit and in the next one or two games we will have one or two changes. We want to rest one or two guys. Otherwise we will play every game with all our strength.”
Afridi knows there are several areas of their game still to polish if Pakistan, plagued by a corruption scandal before the World Cup, are to repeat their 1992 triumph in the business end of the tournament leading to the April 2 final.
Their fielding and catching against Sri Lanka was often distinctly ragged as catches were dropped and run out opportunities missed.
“That was not the way to field. I think we should improve more for upcoming games,” said Afridi.
Nevertheless, Afridi, who was not always the first choice of the Pakistan cricket board to lead the team, is happy with the way senior players are generally taking responsibility in bowling and batting and the team spirit looks sky high.
Asked whether his side have now become one of the favourites to win this World Cup, Afridi has no doubt: “Definitely.” – Reuters