Pakistan would have to set aside their recent controversies and play as a team at the World Cup © Getty Images

 

By Aziz-ul-Qadir

 

Can Pakistan win the World Cup? In my opinion it is as likely as Kenya not winning it. I doubt if having the World Cup in the subcontinent helps Pakistan’s chances. They have won two world championships (the World Cup in 1992 and the T20 World Cup in 2009), both outside the comfort zone of sub-continental pitches.

What does Pakistan need the most to win a mega championship like the 2011 World Cup? Luck? A very strong team? Or a well-thought out plan so that all fronts are covered? All teams strive to knit together a strong unit as far as possible and then make a sound strategic lay-out with the help of the coaching and technical staff well before any tournament. Of course, no team has control over the “luck” factor.

That keeps the interest levels alive of all teams. And that’s the beauty of sport, especially cricket. Pakistan cannot rely on the aforementioned factors alone. Because, neither can they put together a perfect team nor can they plan a faultless strategy to match other teams. So, what are the ingredients needed by Pakistan to forge a winning combination?
 

Let us assess each factor on a scale on ten:

 

Unity: For me, that’s foremost for the team to play as a cohesive unit. If they jell as a team instead of pulling each other down, Pakistan will be a treat to watch. Integral to the unity factor is a captain who has the full support of his team and the board. Should this factor suffer, the team will be a divided lot and, consequently, it will reflect on their performance on the field.

 

After an unnecessary drama and much uncertainty over the captaincy, the PCB belatedly named Shahid Afridi as captain for the World Cup. Mercifully, the man who was a frontrunner for the captaincy stakes (Misbah-ul-Haq) is not only backing Afridi unconditionally but also performing superbly. The rest of the team and the team management have no issues with Afridi. The odds thus are in favor of Pakistan as they are united behind a well-trusted and respected captain.

 

Marks: 8

 

Captaincy: Pakistan needs a captain who they look up to in crisis and inspire them. As is a well known, Afridi is temperamental and inconsistent. He seldom inspires his team as far as performances are concerned. But when he does, he wins it for them, as in the World T20 in 2009. What Pakistan needs is not so much a tactically astute captain, but one who can rally his players around. Afridi can do that. He is batting better over the last two years, though his bowling has slipped considerably – understandably a cause for worry. If he could somehow lift his game for the World Cup and perform consistently, Pakistan will be well served indeed.

 

Marks: 6

 

Motivation: Pakistan is most dangerous when cornered or written off. That’s exactly is their state of mind, shattered mentally and emotionally due to protracted off-field distractions. There is the feeling of being unduly persecuted.

Their captain has been further pestered by his own board for no apparent reason, so he too has reasons to prove himself. The coach, Waqar Younis, has bitter World Cup memories of his own. He was injured in 1992, while in 1996 he was partly responsible for his team’s exit in the quarter-final stage when he gave away a vital runs in the slog overs that proved decisive in the game against India. In 1999, he was agonizingly kept out of the playing eleven by Wasim Akram, while in the 2003 World Cup, it was another forgettable edition as he captained the team that made a first round exit.  He would surely like to break the jinx. Above all Pakistanis as a nation want to win this cup as they feel hard done by the ICC after being deprived of the right to host the World Cup.

At a time when sub-continent is brimming with joy and engulfed in World Cup fever, Pakistan feels painfully marginalized. A win would definitely mean retribution and satisfaction.

 

Marks: 10

 

Planning: It is not a strong characteristic you can associate with Pakistani management. Off course they make plans and try to execute them but often they forget to put together a plan ‘B’ in case some thing goes wrong. The management, one hopes, is experienced and professional enough to guide the team by doing sound planning for each opposing player and team according to the conditions.

 

Marks: 6.5

 

Luck factor: The luck factor, as always, may play a role. An interesting fact is presence of Intikhab Alam as the manager of the contingent. He is known as a lucky charm or mascot for the team in many circles. This is because he was the manager when Pakistan won the World Cup in 1992 in Australia while again during his tenure as coach Pakistan lifted the World T20 trophy in England. But on a serious note, if luck favors Pakistan and they reach the knock-out stage with a momentum, they will be difficult to beat unless they implode.

As you have 50-50 chance to be either lucky or unlucky, it can be anything between 0 and 10.

 

Mark: 5

 

Batting strength: Contrary to the recent World Cups, this time Pakistan’s batting looks stronger than their bowling. But it still cannot match the batting line-ups of the last two World Cups – reason Pakistan is not among the favorites. The batting revolves around two experienced veterans in Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq.  While the latter is enjoying the form of his life, the former needs to step up for the sake of his team. Otherwise, young Asad Shafiq is there to be tried. The job of these two is to hold the innings together and prevent the infamous ‘Pakistani’ collapse. The opening looks settled after a long time as both Hafeez and young prodigy Ahmed Shehzad scored a century each in the last series. The real fire-power and strength of Pakistan lies in the lower middle-order where Shahid Afridi, Umar Akmal and Abdul Razzaq, if provided a good base, can maul any attack and change the course of the match. It will be interesting to see where Kamran Akmal bats as he is also a power-hitter. Another advantage is that the tail also is not mug with the bat.

 

Marks: 7

 

Bowling strength: Pakistan is hurt badly by the loss of Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir. They cannot be replaced easily, but Pakistan has enough talent in bowling department to unearth a few good gems sooner or later.

 

The real problem at the moment is the pace bowling. Neither Umar Gul nor Shoaib Akhtar is in good form. Pakistan needs both to fire, one at the start and the other, Gul, at the death. Shoaib’s pace and Gul’s reverse swing can help Pakistan immensely if they could rediscover some form.

It seems Abdul Razzaq will open the attack and will bowl 5 or 6 overs before Gul takes over. It will be tough to drop Wahab who is bowling best of the lot and I think he should be given the nod ahead of either Shoaib or Gul, at least initially.

If Afridi wants to be brave like Imran Khan, he can throw Junaid Khan into the deep end as he will be a surprise package for every opposition. He can swing the ball at pace and we might well have found a new gem in him.

Pakistan has two good spinners in Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman apart from Afridi himself and then they have part-time spin of Hafeez and Shehzad. Most likely they will go with Abdur Rehman, just to add variety to the attack as Hafeez is there as an off-spinner but it would be a defensive move. Ajmal is an attacking bowler and on favorable tracks he can win matches for Pakistan by taking crucial wickets in the middle overs. If any of the seamerS go for runs or the track has life, Younis can be called upon to turn his arm over for a few overs.

Pakistan has a balanced bowling attack, but definitely not a threatening one.

 

Marks: 6.5

 

Fielding:  Pakistan doesn’t take pride in its fielding. This part of the game has traditionally been Pakistan’s weakest link. The inclusion of some new faces had improved Pakistan’s field significantly. Umar Akmal, Shehzad, Hafeez, Wahab and Afridi are good fielders. Younis and Misbah are very much reliable too. Stopping sharp singles, valiant dives to prevent boundaries and direct hits to affect run outs are the hall marks of a good fielding unit but if they do not give too many extra runs in the field, the management would be happy. The weakest link in the fielding is probably the older Akmal, Kamran.

Pakistan will dearly wish that he forgets his recent woes behind the stump and does not drop too many catches behind the stumps.

 

Marks: 6

 

Tournament Format: The format this time around ensures that no minnow can cross over to the next stage unless they beat at least two of the formidable sides. It has been done to keep the masses and sponsors interested in the tournament as far as possible. So Pakistan should qualify for the quarter-finals.

 

Marks: 7

 

Pitch factor: The pitches suit the host nations as well as Pakistan team. Barring repetition of odd episodes, like the Champions Trophy in India or the 2007 World Cup in West Indies where Pakistan had to play on seaming wickets, the tracks will make Pakistan feel at home. The pitches in Sri Lanka will assist swing bowling and that actually can help Pakistan defend mediocre totals.

 

Marks: 8

 

Pakistan’s total marks add up to 70 out of 100. So Pakistan has 70% chance of winning. The odds, thus, are roughly 3.5 to 1 for a win. But what will count in the end is not the marks but the performance on the field.

P.S: One cannot forget the Prayers. Prayers were instrumental in the World Cup triumphs of 1992 and 2007. So now in these difficult times, it will not be any different.

 

Here 10 out of 10.

 

(Aziz-ul-Qadir, from Rawalpindi, Pakistan, is a physician by profession, who suffers from incurable disease called cricket! A nomad in the world of literature, especially poetry, his passion is to live, love, discuss, watch, listen, read and write cricket)