Dhaka, March 22 (IANS) Pakistan are unpredictable even if they are in form. They still start favourites against an equally inconstant West Indies in the first quarter-final of the Cricket World Cup here Wednesday.
For all their natural talent and ability to perform on the big stage, Pakistan have one worry going into the match. Their batting has signs of brittleness and they need to tone it up.
Two-time champions West Indies are no longer the awe-inspiring side they were in the 1970s. They are surviving on individual brilliance more than rising in collective strength.
Pakistan are struggling to heal the scars of the spot fixing scandal which discredited the South Asian nation before the world and robbed them of the services of opening batsman Salman Butt and two top-class pacers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir. The troika has been banned for 10, seven and five years, respectively, by the International Cricket Council.
However, the 1992 champions seem to have overcome the off-field problems and are upbeat, having won five of their six games to top group A. They got past a formidable Sri Lanka and then handed world number one side Australia their first defeat in 12 years and after 34 World Cup matches.
On the flip side, the Shahid Afridi-led team huffed and puffed to defeat minnows Canada and got a 110-run drubbing from New Zealand.
The batting is a big concern for Pakistan. Among the quarterfinalists, they and Australia have no century-makers in the competition. Their highest opening wicket stand is 28, while Ahmed Shehzad has notched up only 44 in five innings, and Afridi has scored an equally uninspiring 65 in six games. Umar Akmal is the only willower who has crossed the 200-run mark.
Afridi, however, has made amends for his lopsided batting with his leg-spin to emerge as the tournament’s leading wicket taker (17), while pacer Umar Gul (13) has also been a success story.
Another big plus for Pakistan could be the local support. They have traditionally received the fans’ backing in Dhaka. And with Bangladesh out of the tournament, Pakistan could expect all the cheers from the passionate crowd at the Sher-e-Bangla stadium.
Playing on a familiar sub-continent turf could also be to Pakistan’s advantage, though records show West Indies having a better win-loss record (16-12, Tied: 1) in 29 matches played between the two sides in the region.
Overall West Indies lead 64-48, with two tied results, in 114 matches between the two cricketing power houses. In World Cup face-offs also, West Indies have won six, and Pakistan only two.
However, all the last five games have gone Pakistan’s way. Darren Sammy’s side managed to beat lightweights Ireland, the Netherlands and Bangladesh while going down to the three top Test-playing teams in group B – South Africa, England and India.
They have just about managed to make the knockout round, as the fourth placed team from the group logging six points — the lowest among all the quarter finalists.
A positive development for West Indies is the likely return of destructive opener Chris Gayle and most successful bowler Kemar Roach, who sat out the team’s last Group game against India due to minor fitness problems.
Gayle was down with a slight recurrence of the abdominal injury that had forced him out of an earlier match against Ireland. Roach had mild fever, and both were rested by the management for the Chennai game.
But the Calypso collapse has been the most talked about topic over the past week. Against England Thursday, needing 22 runs from 53 balls for victory, West Indies lost their last four wickets for only three runs to lose the game by 18 runs. Against India two days ago, after a sound start the West Indies crumbled like cookies, the last eight wickets falling for 34 runs.
For the Caribbeans, Devon Smith (293 runs) is the leading scorer, while Kieron Pollard has the highest strike rate of 158.4 among all batsmen, who have scored at least 100 runs in the tournament.
Roach with 13 wickets and Sulieman Benn, with a dozen, have been the bowling mainstays.
Legspinner Devendra Bishoo looked an excellent prospect against England and India and pacer Ravi Rampaul with a fifer reminded the team management that he is as good as any.
With its low and slow track where strokemaking is not that easy, the Sher-e-Bangla stadium has seen only three 250-plus innings scores in four matches, and spinners could again play a vital role.
West Indies: Darren Sammy (Captain), Chris Gayle, Devendra Bishoo, Darren Bravo, Kieron Pollard, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Devon Smith, Sulieman Benn, Nikita Miller, Andre Rusell, Ravi Rampaul, Kemar Roach, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Kirk Edwards, Devon Thomas (wicketkeeper).
Pakistan: Shahid Afridi (Captain), Misbah-ul-Haq, Abdul Razzaq, Abdur Rehman, Ahmed Shehzad, Asad Shafiq, Junaid Khan, Kamran Akmal (wicketkeeper), Mohammad Hafeez, Saeed Ajmal, Shoaib Akhtar, Umar Akmal, Umar Gul, Wahab Riaz, Younis Khan.
Umpires: Billy Bowden (New Zealand) and Steve Davis (Australia)
Third Umpire: Daryl Harper (Australia)
Fourth umpire: Bruce Oxenford (Australia)
Match referee: Chris Broad (England)