Pakistan positive despite Akmals’ soap opera

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PALLEKELE – Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi is positive of wrapping up a World Cup quarter-final spot on Monday despite another twist in the ongoing Akmal brothers soap opera. Pakistan’s build-up to the game against Zimbabwe has been dominated by Kamran and Umar Akmal.
Ever since Kamran put in a blundering performance behind the stumps in the 110-run defeat to New Zealand last Tuesday, it had been widely-expected that younger brother Umar would take the gloves. Umar was then accused of feigning a finger injury to save his brother’s job.
On Sunday, the 21-year-old Umar managed to sprain his right ankle while playing football during practice although Afridi said the batsman was not seriously hurt. “We want to put everything behind us, the defeat and any other thing which could hurt our preparation. We are in a positive frame of mind and will play for a win,” said Afridi.
“Umar is OK. As far as Kamran is concerned he has realised his mistakes and we have given him full confidence and at this moment he is our best option,” said Afridi, ruling out any make-shift changes. Pakistan also still have a problem with their openers whose inability to put on a healthy partnership is straining the middle-order. But despite the headaches, captain Afridi insists his team will not repeat the first round exits of the 2003 and 2007 World Cups.
“I have a lot of confidence in my players. We will win against Zimbabwe to reach the quarter-finals,” said Afridi, whose team face defending champions Australia in their last group match on March 19. Pakistan, with six points after four matches, need a win to join co-hosts Sri Lanka into the last eight. Pakistan are likely to rest express paceman Shoaib Akhtar, who went for 71 in his nine overs against New Zealand, and if Umar is ruled out, bring in paceman Wahab Riaz and batsman Asad Shafiq.
Zimbabwe still have a slim chance of making the last eight despite having so far collected just two points. But they need to beat Pakistan and Kenya, dramatically improve their run-rate and still hope Australia beat Pakistan. “We’ll believe that if we can play our best cricket then we can proceed but we must not repeat the mistakes of our last two matches,” said Zimbabwe captain Elton Chigumbura, who will celebrate his 25th birthday on match day.
Chigumbura said his side will be wary of leg-spinner Afridi, who is the highest wicket-taker in the tournament with 15. Coach wants meat in Zimbabwe batting: Zimbabwe’s English coach Alan Butcher demanded better batting in the match against Pakistan on Monday, saying small totals cannot win his team World Cup matches.
Zimbabwe were bowled out for 188 in their 139-run defeat against Sri Lanka last week, leaving the African nation facing a must-win game against Shahid Afridi’s men to keep their flickering quarter-final hopes alive. The African nation were also bowled out cheaply against New Zealand and Australia in their other two defeats, only finding form in their win over minnows Canada, when they scored 298.
Butcher said poor batting displays were hurting his team’s chances. “I think the concern is to put a positive total on the board and that’s what’s been our problem,” said Butcher. “I am happy with the way the team has performed in the field. Most of the time we have bowled well but haven’t posted a good total.”
Butcher said Zimbabwe had the bowlers to defend a total of 250-plus. “The minimum realistic target is 250 and if we score that then we have a chance against most teams. “Other teams may look at 250 as below par but the recent history suggests that we haven’t scored 300 very often so we have to be realistic,” said Butcher, who took over in April last year.
Teams
Pakistan: Shahid Afridi (capt), Misbah-ul-Haq, Mohammad Hafeez, Kamran Akmal, Younis Khan, Asad Shafiq, Umar Akmal, Abdul Razzaq, Abdur Rehman, Saeed Ajmal, Shoaib Akhtar, Umar Gul, Wahab Riaz, Junaid Khan, Ahmed Shahzad. Coach: Waqar Younis
Zimbabwe: Elton Chigumbura (capt), Regis Chakabva, Charles Coventry, Graeme Cremer, Terry Duffin, Craig Ervine, Greg Lamb, Shingirai Masakadza, Christopher Mpofu, Tinashe Panyangara, Raymond Price, Tatenda Taibu, Brendan Taylor, Prosper Utseya, Vusimuzi Sibanda. Coach: Alan Butcher (ENG), Umpires: Nigel Llong (ENG) and Tony Hill (NZL), TV umpire: Marais Erasmus (RSA), Match referee: Chris Broad (ENG), Match start: 0900GMT
Pitch condition: Teams will play on the third pitch of the stadium, which has no grass but has bounce. It will help spinners as the game progresses.