Australia Pakistan battle for pole position
It isn’t often Pakistan play in a big cricket tournament and not dish out a major controversy or two. Surprisingly they have managed to qualify for the knockout stages after failing to do so in two previous editions without any drama or news. To be fair to them, they have looked focused and united to reclaim the spirit and respect back in the world cricket and barring that dismal performance against New Zealand Pakistan have played good cricket and, at times, looked threatening to have a real dash at the trophy. In their heart of hearts, Pakistan team knows that their real test will come when they go deep into the tournament with Australian encounter their immediate challenge.
Pakistan skipper Shahid Afridi and coach Waqar Younis have long maintained their wish to beat Australian and to the group stages and get confidence before going into a big league.
Australia wish to do same, beat Pakistan, avoid South Africa in the quarter final stage and more importantly want a tougher challenge ahead the crucial phase of the tournament.
Ricky Ponting led Australian side feels that they are yet to be challenged as all the four games out of five they have played so far have turned out to be lop-sided affairs while their game against was abandoned due to rain robbing Aussies of a tough game.
With Pakistan their opponents on Saturday, Australian wouldn’t only win the game but a good workout on way through and same will be going through the minds of Pakistan players.
Weathermen have predicted some showers on Saturday in Colombo and the pitch at Premadasa, as usual, will be typical Sri Lankan one having in it something for all.
The defending champions were last beaten by Pakistan in a world cup game way back in 1999 at Headingly, England and Australian would be keen that defeat at Headingly remains their last defeat after Saturday game as well.
Australia has only dropped one point so far in this tournament when rain forced abandonment of their game against Sri Lanka but they haven’t been as ruthless as their previous Australian sides have been.
There is more than one area where Australia would like desperately to improve against Pakistan and before their quarter final game. Captain Ricky Ponting is yet to set world on fire with his bowling effort and has been in the headlines more for his short temper than his batting display and on two occasions he had publicly apologize for the incidents.
Low middle order, Cameron White in particular, hasn’t had much of a hit in the previous five matches and team management would be keen to get everything in order on Saturday.
Lack of wickets from spinners-Jason Krejza and Steven Smith-and their inability to stem the run flow in the middle overs has worried Ponting and company big time and fears are creeping it might be area that would cost Australia the trophy. With Pakistan having some better players of spin bowling in the world, the challenge will be tougher for the duo.
It would be the fast bowling quartet of Brett Lee, Shaun Tait, Mitchell Johnson and Shane Watson Australian will be banking on to dent brittle Pakistan batting line up.
Barring few bad moments, all four fast bowlers have bowled their heart out and claimed wickets when their team needed them the most.
Ricky Ponting (Capt), Michael Clarke, Shane Watson, Brad Haddin (wk), Callum Ferguson, David Hussey, Cameron White, Tim Paine (wk), Steven Smith, John Hastings, Mitchell Johnson, Jason Krejza, Brett Lee, Shaun Tait, Michael Hussey
Coach: Tim Neilson
After mercurial fast bowler Shoab Akhter announcing his retirement, emotions are bound to be there in Pakistan camp but skipper Shahid Afridi has insisted focus will be on winning the game and announcement is not going to affect their performance.
For Pakistan it the form of openers that is turned out to be a worrisome affair and, it appears, Kamran Akmal will partner Mohammad Hafeez to open the innings. It means that Ahmad Shahzad will be replaced by fit-again Umar Akmal.
Pakistan has looked a good bowling unit in the tournament with Afridi leading the charts of most wicket takers so far with sixteen and fast bowler Umar Gul in a red hot form using both new and old ball effectively and looking menacing after every outing. The Focus will, however, shift on whether Pakistan play Shoab or not as by the look of what Afridi has said, it is highly unlikely that Shoab will take field on Saturday.
Pakistan batsmen will have to bring their A game into play against strong fast bowling unit of Kangaroos and give their bowlers runs so that they can express themselves on a big stage.
Fielding between two sides could well turn out to be the big difference as Pakistan have continued on their poor catching form in this tournament as well with wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal the lead culprit.
Shahid Afridi (Capt), Misbah-ul-Haq, Ahmad Shahzad, Mohammad Hafeez, Younis Khan, Asad Shafiq, Umar Akmal, Abdur Razzaq, Kamran Akmal (wk), Syed Ajmal, Abdur Rehman, Wahab Riaz, Junaid Khan, Shoab Akhter and Umar Gul
Coach: Waqar Younis