In quarters, rampaging Pakistan catch the eye


SOIRT THIS WEEK – Gary Kirsten’s effect on the Indian cricket team cannot be overstated. The way the Indians came back from a dicey situation to overwhelm and knock out the Aussies speaks volumes about their self-belief. Kirsten will be leaving his job at the end of the World Cup and he would like nothing better for his team to take the trophy, something his home team has never done.
In the second quarter final, South Africa underwent their usual meltdown, sinking without a trace against a feisty New Zealand side, one that actually believes it can go all the way. But it were the rampaging Pakistanis who caught the eye. They did absolutely nothing wrong in their quarter final against the West Indies. The execution was clinical and ruthless, the openers wiping out the paltry target. Pakistan are on a roll now. Their bowling along with that of the Sri Lankans, is the sharpest.
The runs are coming but not at a rate and consistency as might be required against India. It is a mystery as to what goes on between Shahid Afridi’s ears when he picks up a bat. Gone is the cool, cunning wizardry of his bowling. It seems his confidence with the bat is so low that he wants to get in a few big hits before the inevitable dismissal.
Afridi is a precocious striker of the ball, but his scoring arc is too narrow when defensive fields are in play. With a hard ball and a batting power play in the opening overs, he would be deadly. Even his mishits would be clearing the fielders and the boundary. It might require just such a shock innings that could take the wind out of the Indians’ sails. Anyhow, Afridi is not producing in the lower order so there is nothing to lose and everything to gain should he come off. And it is more often than not that the side that dares to dare gets the edge.
The fruit is at the end of the limb, not near the trunk. Saeed Ajmal was brilliant against the West Indies. But Abdul Rehman has been excellent as well. Do Pakistan dare playing both spinners against India? It might be worth considering. The pitch would probably take turn early. But then there would be Hafeez and Afridi, two spinners who are more than holding their own. Unfortunately, it will boil down to one of the first mentioned sitting out.
The bowling will be handled by the excellent Umar Gul supported by Wahab and the opportunistic seamers of Razzaq. Razzaq has often managed to do some serious damage to the Indian top liners. But, in order to attack the Indians with our bowlers, we have to put some serious runs on the board. Apart from the West Indies game and some parts of the Australian game, the batting has been brittle. Younus and Misbah are due for some runs. Afridi can contribute as discussed earlier.
Razzaq should be sent in ahead of either Misbah or Younus. He should play the role that Sehwag plays for India. Attack the bowling and score at a frenetic pace. Pakistan should take a chance with Afridi and Razzaq in the batting lineup. This could neutralize the decided edge that the Indians possess. Zaheer Khan has improved out of sight as a strike bowler, his variations reminiscent of Wasim Akram. Should Akmal and Hafeez successfully negotiate Zaheer and keep their wickets at the end of the first 10 overs, Pakistan would be in with a chance to put up a competitive total. And if Afridi took the chance that we have discussed, with his batting, things could be even more promising.
The rest of the Indian bowling is strictly up and down. The game is on a knife’s edge and it could be a match winning performance from one or two players that could make the difference. India would be under more psychological pressure, having to negotiate the expectations of a home crowd. They are lucky in having Dhoni as captain. He is a calming influence and could be the best captain of the World Cup. Sri Lanka made light of a weak England challenge in the last quarter final. They are peaking at absolutely the right time and as predicted earlier in this column, are favourites to take the trophy.
England’s batting was just too orthodox and lacking in imagination to counter the tournament’s most compelling bowling attack. The English batsman played largely from the crease and after they had lost Strauss and Bell early to soft dismissals, none of the remaining batsman had the enterprise to take on Malinga, Murali and Mendis.
These three are the most difficult bowlers to get away and it was always too difficult for the England middle order to venture down the wicket not known which way the ball would turn.
The ever reliable Trott was workmanlike, holding the innings together with a solid 80 plus. England’s total of 229 was at least forty runs too short. The Sri Lankans made an effortless start and pretty soon, English shoulders were sagging and the heads dropping. Dilshan and Tharanga knocked off the required runs with the highest opening partnership of the tournament to set up a comprehensive victory.
Both openers made unbeaten hundreds. England’s bowling was toothless and they dropped too many catches with Prior and Tremlett the worst offenders. But by then it was all over bar the shouting. This was a victory every bit as comprehensive as Pakistan’s over the West Indies.
So, in the semis, it is Sri Lanka against New Zealand and Pakistan against India in the blockbuster at Mohali on Wednesday. Look for some heroics from Afridi and company and yet another clinical performance from Sri Lanka. The winner of the trophy? Sri Lanka.