Pakistan seek response against England
Shoaib Malik © AFP
Pakistan will aim to restore belief in their embattled team when they take on England in a two-match Twenty20 series at the Dubai Sports City cricket stadium starting here on Friday.
The ICC World Twenty20 champions haven't had the best of times on the cricket field after their stunning triumph at Lord's in June last year.
And the team is in disarray after their disastrous recent trip to Australia, where they lost all their matches, including three Test matches and five one-day internationals.
But with an eye on the 2010 World T20 Cup, to be played in the Caribbean in April, the Pakistan team under stand-in skipper Shoaib Malik will hope for a clean sweep against Paul Collingwood-led England.
Malik, who has been involved in a very public spat with Mohammed Yousuf since the Australia tour, took over the reins from regular T20 captain Shahid Afridi, who is serving a two-match suspension after being found guilty of ball-tampering in the fifth and final ODI against Australia.
Afridi, who missed the only T20 match against Australia, is eligible to play the second match against England on Saturday, but he is not in the team and Malik will continue to lead.
On the eve of the match, Malik said he will be happy to hand over the captaincy to Afridi as soon as possible and continue to contribute as a player.
"Afridi is the right choice as captain. It is a great honour to captain your country, but I am doing this only because my country needs me to captain for the next two matches," said Malik.
"Shahid has proved to be a very good leader and has all the abilities to make the boys gel and extract the best out of them."
Malik said he was hopeful of putting together a good team performance against England, and specifically pointed out fielding as one huge area of concern.
"We haven't performed that well after winning the World Twenty20. We have been struggling ever since we went to Sri Lanka, but you try and learn from your mistakes. The dropped catches have surely hurt us a lot and that is one area where we can make a big improvement," he said.
Pakistan will be missing their pace bowler Mohammed Asif, who is banned from entering the UAE after he was caught last year at Dubai airport with banned drugs.
Collingwood, meanwhile, insists that his side will not take their opponents lightly despite their recent misfortunes.
"Pakistan are a very strong Twenty20 side and we're going to have to be right on our game to beat them. It might be a good time to play them, but you never quite know what you're going to get on the day," said Collingwood.
The captain also ruled out an immediate promotion to the England national side for South Africa-born Craig Kieswetter, who impressed in the England A team's shock defeat of the seniors in a practice match on Wednesday.
Kieswetter scored 81, on the first day he became eligible for the national side after a four-year qualification period.
Collingwood said that despite Kieswetter's undeniable talent, the team will persist with Matt Prior.
"I was very impressed with how hard he hits the ball. I wouldn't say he took us by surprise because we've heard a lot about him," he said.
"At the moment, he hasn't got the chance to do that at international level, but in the future, maybe he will. He's certainly got a lot of talent and confidence.
"Kieswetter has done exceptionally well when he's got his chance, but we've got to understand what Matt Prior has done for this team as well."
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