They were hapless. They were cornered. The whole West Indian team was humiliated on the grandest stage of all-the World Cup. And no less than the World Cup quarter final. Tonight the bereaved fans might be thinking it would have been better had their team not qualified for the knock-out stage. A neutral would claim that anyone of either Bangladesh or Ireland would have been far exciting prospects.
The West Indies team fell like a heap and was dusted off by some superb Pakistani bowling. Gayle seems to have lost his touch. The way he throws away his wicket is a blessing for the opposing team. Being very much a senior player in the present line-up, he had to accept responsibility. Once again, he failed miserably. Scooping up a catch to the best fielder is hardly the way to go about assuming responsibility. With Afridi catching that bullet flying off Gayles’ bat, the tone was set for what was to follow.
The Pakistani bowlers were spot on, with their line, length and ability to take wickets; they rolled over the West Indian batting line-up. The trick of having Hafeez open the bowling proved to be a clever one, with figures of two for sixteen, he held a stranglehold over the batsmen. Ajmal had been brought in especially for this game, keeping in view the number of left-handed batsmen in the Windies line-up. He bamboozled with his ‘doosra’ and did the job he was brought in to do. Once again the star performer with the ball was the captain himself. Taking four more scalps in this game, he has now added to his tally of wickets as the most successful bowler in this World Cup. Simply put, the Pakistani bowlers were a class apart from their opponents. The game was finished by the time the Pakistani fielders marched off the field.
With the confidence of having such a small target to chase, even our openers came into form. Joining the party, they have done themselves a huge favour by playing positively and taking momentum forward into the semi-final. I think they just needed such a knock to get into the groove. The confidence gained will go a long way in facing either Lee or Zaheer at Mohali.
To say that this was a solid performance in all aspects is not making things up. Even our usually dismal fielding was excellent today. Talk about having a perfect day!
This quarter-final was one every Pakistani cricket fan will remember for a very long time. As far as the semi-final goes, the opponents are yet to be determined. The question is will it be India or Australia? The answer is that the Pakistanis don’t really care. They are ready to roll over whoever gets in their way!
The Pakistani team of a few years back would have succumbed to the high pressure. Playing one of the favourites to take the cup this time, on their home ground, was always going to be a crunch encounter. As far as the points table was concerned, it wouldn’t make much difference. As the format is pretty favourable to the top eight teams in the world, so barring any big upsets, all would be playing the quarter-finals. What was at stake today was mere pride, and taking confidence into the rest of the matches. For Pakistan, they are still termed outsiders with little chance of winning the cup. For Sri Lanka, the least they could have hoped to do was erase their dismal record against Pakistan in World Cups. They have won none of the teams’ six encounters!
The game is done and over with. The dust has settled on the Premadasa pitch. The Sri Lankan bands have been silenced in the crowds. And Pakistan has sent out a message to the rest of their rivals- in the captain’s own words, “…we will play harder with each game”. The steely determination of the Afridi-led clan was evident today. The batting was rock solid, with the experienced Younis and Misbah making all their talent and experience count. The “Rawalpindi Express” finally bowled with the fire today that will prove a killer to any big batsman of any team. Anyone who has any doubts should just ask Jayawardene. The look of disbelief as he actually turned around to look at his middle-stump dismantled. Yet the bowling hero, for the second consecutive match, is Shahid Afridi. Forget Ajmal and Rehman, the captain is claiming the top spinner’s slot. He most definitely is leading from the front.
When a little of the joy has subsided, some matters need to be taken into consideration. We need to make better use of the batting powerplay. Against Kenya we were fabulous. Yet against the Sri Lankan attack, only thirty-six runs were scored with the loss of one wicket. It should have been taken with the set batsmen on the crease, i.e. Younis and Misbah. Secondly, the Razzaq factor is still puzzling. If he is not going to be playing any active part in the side, then why not leave him out. He comes in to bat at number eight, when mostly there is no time for any constructive innings. And his bowling is dismal on the Asian tracks. Now either he should be promoted up the batting order. And if that cannot happen, then he should be replaced with Wahab Riaz, who will definitely bowl a much better ten-over spell. And he can also bat pretty well at that number eight position. The last weakness, as is always the case with our team, our fielding needs more commitment.
This win will boost the team’s morale. The confidence taken from it will prove a big factor in the rest of the games. Here’s hoping that amidst the celebrations, the team management will formulate plans to eliminate the weaknesses. For the fans, it is time to savour a sweet, sweet victory!
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’.
Paralysed by the spot-fixing controversy, humiliated by the string of defeats, declared hopeless by its own people, the cornered tiger had not much to lose further. Licking its wounds, it sprang up and with unrelenting spirit, silenced all those who had questioned its very existence. Unpredictability is what every Pakistani cricket fan has to accept with regard to the national team. Yet, that is what makes the victories even sweeter. With the recent series win in New Zealand, the Green Shirts have shouted out to the cricketing world that they are not to be ruled out. Come February 19th, the Pakistani team will be as prepared as any other. So what if recent times have been tough for the unit, to say the least. Not finding the right team combinations, losing three top players in the spot-fixing row, the controversy stirred up by the runaway wicket-keeper, pathetic affairs of the Pakistan Cricket Board, and to top it all off, not having a captain for the World Cup till last night. The list could go on, believe me, but let’s leave the negativities in the past. For today, we gear up for the mega event. The team is oozing with spirit, and everybody seems to be finding form at just the right time. We finally seem to have a settled opening partnership with both Hafeez and Shehzad looking in excellent touch. The experienced middle order, with the likes of Misbah and Younis, can provide the backbone of our batting. And the explosive Afridi and Razzaq can always turn around any innings with their scintillating strokes. Another good thing that has come to the fore recently is that even our bowlers can bat a bit. Wahab Riaz and Sohail Tanvir know what to do with the stick if the situation demands. So, there you have it. The team will hopefully not disappoint now as it carries the hopes of millions with it. The nation could use some good news right about now, and believe me a World Cup win would be just the right tonic. As for me, I believe that the team has what it takes to go far in the tournament. We have all the guns blazing at just the right time. As the game ends, and the players huddle together in the middle, shouting “Pakistan Zindabad”, you get the good feeling. The time is right. They have faced difficult times and come out stronger. The Green Express is ready to roll!