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World Cup: Pakistan can tide over problems to surprise Australia

"We've still got that sort of team, that sort of talent, that sort of bowling line-up that could really put Australia under pressure," says Misbah.

Wisden India Staff |March 19, 2015, 11:01 AM IST
World Cup: Pakistan can tide over problems to surprise Australia

Adelaide: They used to say once of West Indies that they had a production line which just kept throwing up one fast bowler after another, no worries. In fact, so rapidly was the production line unearthing quicks that several careers overlapped, several immensely talented pacemen slipped through the cracks.

The same can now be said of Pakistan. Even as West Indies are struggling to unearth distant successors to the Holdings and the Roberts and the Garners and the Marshalls, Pakistan have managed to keep a steady stream going. This, despite the fact that until recently, they didn't have the most organised structure in the world. This, despite the fact that for six years now, no international cricket has been played in Pakistan.

Brought up on a regular diet of tape-ball cricket, Pakistan's quicks grow up faster than anyone else on the world stage. They also fade out as quickly, either losing their pace or their way, like with Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir.

For all the Imran Khans, Wasim Akrams and Waqar Younises, Pakistan's bowling hasn't been just about pace. There has been oriental mystique in the shape of Abdul Qadir and Mushtaq Ahmed's legspin in the last 30 years and, more recently, the gripping offspin of Saqlain Mushtaq, the man who gave the cricket world the doosra. Pakistan have gifted cricket some of its finest batsmen; they have also produced enough bowlers, pace and spin, who have wowed and thrilled fans across the globe with their unique skills.

Of all the teams in the competition, though, no attack was more badly hit coming into the World Cup as Pakistan's. First, they lost Saeed Ajmal. Then, out of the reckoning went Mohammad Hafeez. Both offspinners, both with dodgy actions deemed illegal, both requiring corrective work to get back on track. 10 overs of Ajmal the virtuoso gone straightaway, another 10 overs of Hafeez, wily and cunning, also gone.

As if that weren't bad enough, Junaid Khan pulled up injured, his World Cup over even before it began. And there was no place in the 15 for Umar Gul, the experienced quick who has had a torrid time of it off late. Four of them put together added up to 439 One-Day International appearances, 553 ODI victims. How do you compensate for that? How can you compensate for that?

Oh, but wait. Now, there is no Mohammad Irfan either. The giant, standing at well over 7 feet and who forced India to practice for his bounce against a man sending down throw downs standing on a stool, is out of the tournament with a pelvis injury. In five games, Irfan's left-arm pace produced eight wickets at 23.25, his economy an impressive 4.53 across 41 overs. How do you overcome that blow? How can you overcome that blow?

While it will be ridiculous to say that Pakistan aren't hampered or concerned, it's remarkable that they still have the resources to tide over problems that would have crippled most other teams. There is Wahab Riaz, the team's leading wicket-taker with 14 scalps, the man who has taken the leadership role to heart in the absence of the stalwarts. There is Rahat Ali, who has seven wickets from four games and has only gone for 4.07 runs an over. And then there is Sohail Khan, the only specialist right-arm paceman in a sea of left-armers, who has 11 wickets from six matches even if he has gone for a fair few. Safe to say, that it is an attack that revolves around these three pacers, with the experienced Shahid Afridi lending variety with his legbreaks.

"Irfan, everybody knows he is a different kind of bowler, that's a big loss for the team," Misbah-ul-Haq conceded. "But you have to just handle these things. You can't say now that Irfan is out of this competition, so we just can't play Australia. We've got other bowlers who are good enough, equally good enough, and they are also performing really well. They are up to the mark, all of the three seamers, even the fourth one. Yasir Shah is a bowler that can really put pressure on the opposition. We've still got that sort of team, that sort of talent, that sort of bowling line-up that could really put Australia under pressure."

Afridi hasn't had a great tournament with either bat - only 93 runs from five innings - or ball. In 2011, he was one of the prime movers behind Pakistan's march to the semifinal, with 21 wickets in eight encounters; this time around, he only has two wickets from 53 overs across six games. But he has kept things tight in the middle stages of the innings, going for only 4.75 runs an over.

"They've got a very good pace attack," acknowledged Michael Clarke, the Australian skipper. "It's a good mix of left and right-arm, and obviously the experience and skill of Afridi as well. He's a great strength of Pakistan's. They're attack is very good and they've shown that throughout this series."

Pakistan have shown very little faith in Yasir Shah, the legspinner who was picked as the prime spinning option for the World Cup once Ajmal was ruled out. Yasir played in the opening game against India, where his eight overs went for 60, and hasn't been fielded since - not even against Ireland and Zimbabwe. There is, however, always the possibility that Pakistan will bring him back into the XI for the quarterfinal, even though he hasn't had a competitive bowl in more than a month and even though the Adelaide Oval track, which has quickened up over the years, was coated with a liberal dose of grass on match eve.

Australia, mighty Australia with the Warners and the Smiths and the Maxwells, will be wary of the threat Pakistan's bowlers will pose. Australia aggressive batting against Pakistan's attacking bowling, now that is something to look forward to.

Team Rankings

Rank Team Points Rating
1 India 4027 115
2 New Zealand 2829 109
3 South Africa 2917 108
4 England 4366 104
5 Australia 3270 99
see more
Rank Team Points Rating
1 England 6745 125
2 India 7071 122
3 New Zealand 4837 112
4 Australia 5543 111
5 South Africa 5193 110
see more
Rank Team Points Rating
1 Pakistan 7365 283
2 England 4253 266
3 India 8411 263
4 Australia 5471 261
5 South Africa 4407 259
see more