Preview: Beleaguered Pakistan begin journey of redemption against Kenya

Shahid Afridi-led Pakistan can take a lot of positives from their recent ODI series over New Zealand when they take on Kenya in their World Cup Group A match at Hambantota

By Jamie Alter

Hambantota, February 22, 2011

After all the tumult and shouting, Pakistan have a chance to let their cricket do the talking. Like India, they have scars of 2007 to carry and now, against lowly Kenya, they need to begin their campaign with a resounding statement. Shahid Afridi will lead Pakistan into this match knowing that there s little margin for error, despite the weak opposition, because his team needs to rise from the turmoil that has plagued them for the past couple years.

Waqar Younis, Pakistan s coach, has said the prime objective the camp was maintaining their intensity, irrespective of the opposition and their standing in the tournament. Having narrowly beaten New Zealand in an ODI series recently, Pakistan walloped Bangladesh in their opening warm-up came only to stumble against England.

Since the Saeed Anwar-Aamir Sohail act broke up, Pakistan s opening combinations have most always attracted criticism. Currently, it appears they are still trying to figure out options.

In the win over Bangladesh, opener Ahmed Shehzad who did well partnering Mohammad Hafeez in New Zealand scored a century to set up a winning total. But then against England he was shafted down to No. 6 as Kamran Akmal earned promotion.

It s not yet certain which way the management will go, but in all likelihood it will be young Shehzad who gets the nod alongside Hafeez, whose off-breaks are handy during the middle over. Down the order, Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq compliment flashy players like Umar Akmal and Asad Shafiq. Afridi is hit-or-miss, but he is the best option for captain right now and no team will be comfortable until he is back in the dressing room.

As usual, it is with the ball that Pakistan will look to inflict damage on Kenya. The Kenyans were steamrolled by New Zealand s fast bowlers, who bowled full and very straight, and Pakistan have the attack to replicate such tactics. Umar Gul will lead the attack, with Shoaib Akhtar and Wahab Riaz likely to follow, and there is Abdul Razzaq to bowl medium pace.

Afridi s fast leg-breaks can be potent if he wants them to, and the management will need to decide on whether to include a second spinner. Saeed Ajmal is the most likely candidate to step up, but that would mean going with just two fast bowlers and Razzaq.

Kenya will be thoroughly outmatched. Their woeful performance against New Zealand bowled out for 69 in 23.5 overs leaves them mentally fragile and hoping to escape further humiliation. They are the weakest of all Associate nations, often unable to stave off defeat against sides like Afghanistan and Scotland, and unfortunately they are here at the World Cup to make up the numbers.

Their crop of senior players Steve Tikolo, Thomas Odoyo and Collins Obuya needs to carry their weight if the African minnows are to save face.

Teams

Pakistan (from): Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Hafeez, Kamran Akmal (wk), Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq, Umar Akmal, Shahid Afridi (capt), Abdul Razzaq, Wahab Riaz, Umar Gul , Shoaib Akhtar / Saeed Ajmal.

Kenya (from): Alex Obanda, Seren Waters, Collins Obuya, Steve Tikolo, Maurice Ouma (wk), Rakep Patel, Jimmy Kamande (capt), Thomas Odoyo, Nehemiah Odhiambo, Shem Ngoche, Peter Ongondo.

Umpires: Tony Hill (New Zealand) and Nigel Llong (England).

Time: 14.30 local (09.00 GMT)

(Jamie Alter is a freelance cricket writer, having worked at ESPNcricinfo and All Sports Magazine. His first book, The History of World Cup Cricket, is out now)

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