Pakistan’s chances of doing well in this tournament are pretty good, but their chances of winning it are still remote. It’s hard to appreciate that given the euphoria swirling through Pakistani fans around the world after a solid win over Sri Lanka, one of the stronger contenders for the title.
After these two wins, Pakistan, which has the best NRR so far in the tournament, is more or less guaranteed a quarterfinal spot. Upcoming games:
Pakistan vs Canada, March 3, Colombo (Premadasa)
Pakistan vs New Zealand, March 8, Kandy
Pakistan vs Zimbabwe, March 14, Kandy
Pakistan vs Australia, March 19, Colombo
We’re not losing against Canada or Zimbabwe. Just not happening. Zimbabwe is a decent side, a potential banana skin, but I’m confident there will be no complacency. More on that later.
Unless Pakistan loses against BOTH Australia and New Zealand (unlikely,given that we just beat NZ comfortably and Australia is far from the force it used to be, albeit looks ominously clinical so far), it will be either the top or second-best team in Group A, and will face off against Bangladesh/West Indies or England/South Africa in the quarterfinal. With all due respect, Bangladesh/West Indies are not serious threats,so if we play them,a semifinal is HIGHLY LIKELY. The last time we played against South Africa and England, close ODI series were decided 3-2, and Pakistan is playing better now than it was back then, while those teams don’t seem to have progressed significantly. Either way,we can look forward to at least three more weeks of cricket.
Good news, definitely. But the bad news is that Pakistan can easily lose against South Africa or England and fail to make the semis. Even if they do make the semis, it`s guaranteed to be a pretty good team facing them, and a win can`t be taken for granted. All it takes is a couple of dismissals, one dropped catch, or one bad over. It`s a cliche, but people seem to be forgetting that in ODI cricket, it`s all about what happens on the day, and fortunes can change quickly.
Yesterday`s game against Sri Lanka is an excellent example – Pakistan looked set to post a big score before Murali bowled a couple of great overs, and then Sri Lanka`s chase was derailed in the space of two overs, when Akhtar and Afridi got Jayawardene and Samaraweera.
I`m also a little concerned that Pakistan may almost be peaking too early – not sure that Shoaib has the stamina to last a tournament, and Gul needs to find form quickly. We can`t count on Afridi taking four wickets every game, so wicket taking is a genuine issue right now, and will really bite us if we`re bowling first to any decent batting side. For example – if we lose the toss and Australia bat first in our group match at the Premadasa, that immediately gives them a huge advantage!
So yes – be positive, hope for the best, cheer on the team, but remember that this can all come crashing down very quickly. Our best hopes, though, lie in the team’s deadly serious attitude towards the cup so far. Unlike in 2007, we’re unlikely to get complacent.
Afridi, Akhtar, Razzaq, and Waqar are motivated like never before, because they know it’s basically their last chance to win this. Akhtar is trying to save his legacy, Afridi is more pumped up than anyone else in the SQUAD, obviously in his element as captain, and Waqar seems to be the enforcer (and loving it). Younis and Misbah have proven themselves to be the most important batsmen in our lineup in conditions that suit them perfectly (they’re usually playing in the middle overs vs spinners),and Ukmal has regained some mojo in the last few months too. Razzaq is the man who came in at 1 down in the ’99 final and scored 17 off 51, something he’ll want to redress (in the wider context of being perceived to be another case of unfulfilled potential). Hafeez, lest no one forget, is 30 years old and has had to fight for his place in the team. Everyone else in the squad knows that this is their best chance to etch their names in history…so let’s collectively pray for some success!