Our World Cup campaign has finally started and a pretty good start it was. Now some of you might be a bit apprehensive since the opponents were cricketing minnows, but being a die-hard fan of the Men in Green, I am celebrating the victory and ask you to do the same. The reason; it could easily have been a repeat of Pakistan versus Bangladesh in 1999, or Pakistan versus Ireland in 2007. It could even have been a scratchy affair as it was for England against Netherlands just the other day. Yet our team delivered and has conquered the first hurdle. And that, as all my fellow cricketing buffs would agree, is sometimes the most important and difficult hurdle to pass in a World Cup.
Amidst the victory, I couldn’t help but feel a loss too. The Sri Lankan kids were a joy to watch, dancing around waving Pakistani fans, yet one could only wonder that this could have been our kids cheering the team on. Losing the chance to be hosts was indeed a sad blow.
Coming back to the match itself, the playing-eleven was always going to be an interesting enigma. The batting line-up looks well-settled. It’s the bowling department that poses a few questions. Where Akhtar has looked a tad lack lustre in recent outings, Riaz has come of age as a talented player. Gul is still not at his best, but his accuracy will always assure him a place in the side, I believe. Even last-minute inclusion to the squad, Junaid, made a case for himself in the last practice match. Both Ajmal and Rehman are world-class spinners, and will come in handy on the turning tracks of the subcontinent. It is a well-rounded unit.
To me, the omission of Riaz was quite a surprise. Apart from the fact that he has been bowling really well, he is a left-armed pacer and this gives variety to the bowling attack. We do need a fit and firing Shoaib to produce results on these slow and dead tracks, but as he remained wicketless, Waqar Younis and Aaqib Javed must be scratching their heads as to play him against Sri Lanka or not. Rehman looked good enough, but the unlikely hero was Shahid Afridi with five wickets. Trust the captain to rewrite records and produce a performance that would make his fans go ‘Boom Boom’. One thing the Pakistani camp needs to re-think is Razzaq opening the bowling. While this may have worked in New Zealand, yet here on these slow tracks, it’s a no-no. He has no pace to trouble the very fine openers we will encounter in the rest of our games. The batting line-up looks solid and exciting, yet with four half-centuries, at least one should have gone on to get three figures. We will need that kind of maturity in the coming weeks.
The Men in Green are on their way. And the cricket-crazy nation is clinging onto high hopes desperately. There is a tough, rocky road to the ultimate prize-and that is ‘the Cup that matters’.