They say well begun is half done. Pakistan, their captain Misbah-ul-Haq and coach Waqar Younis should be well aware of it as they enter the final stage of preparations for World Cup 2015. While a good beginning might not assure complete success, in Pakistan’s case it would almost certainly catapult them in the last eight of the World Cup and perhaps more importantly serve as a catalyst and provide a much-needed shot in the arm to their title campaign. That’s because Pakistan are playing old foes India in their opening game of the World Cup on February 15 at the Adelaide Oval.
Such is the 14-nation spectacle’s format that the outcome of the high-voltage encounter might not have any bearing on the quarter-final line-up with Pakistan and India both qualifying for the knockout stage. But a win in the tournament opener will give either team a lot of cushion especially for an unpredictable side like Pakistan that is still haunted by the bitter memories of that Irish nightmare in the Caribbean back in 2007.
Pakistan give their best against the Indians more often than not but when it comes to the World Cup it has always been a different story. They’ve never managed to tame the Indians in a World Cup battle and that’s something which Pakistan need to change in Adelaide next month.
But can they do it?
On paper, the Indians appear to be a better One-day International side. They certainly have more prolific and reliable batsmen and should do well on what is expected to be a batting-friendly strip at the Adelaide Oval. Their bowling attack isn’t counted among the best in the world but since India will be going into the World Cup soon after playing a tri-series in Australia involving the hosts and England, it will certainly have necessary knowhow of the playing conditions. History, too, is on India’s side as they would be bolstered by the fact that their rivals have always ended up on the losing end in an Indo-Pak World Cup clash.
Pakistan don’t have much going for them ahead of the key World Cup game. The 1992 champions have lost their top wicket-taking bowler – Saeed Ajmal – and are uncertain whether Mohammad Hafeez will be allowed to bowl at the World Cup. Their preparations have been marred by injuries to several key players including Misbah and strike bowler Junaid Khan.
In a nutshell, Pakistan are among the underdogs as they get ready for a title assault which many fear won’t end in success. Personally, I believe that it should make them more dangerous. India being the defending champions and one of the title favourites will be under pressure against the Pakistanis.
But that one factor cannot tilt the balance in Pakistan’s favour. To end their World Cup jinx against India, Pakistan will have to dig deep and come out with an effective strategy to counter the likes of Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma.
If the Indian batting line-up is allowed to get into its element then there will be little chance for Pakistan in the match. Say, if batting first the Indians pile up 300 or more, it would be next to impossible for the Pakistanis – perennially bad chasers – to achieve a mammoth victory target.
There is no doubt in my mind that despite Ajmal’s absence Pakistan have the resources to turn the tables on the Indians in Adelaide. And the team’s biggest trump card will be their pace attack spearheaded by Mohammad Irfan. Pakistan have done well by sticking to specialist pacers instead of going for bits and pieces players. With two new balls in operation and tight fielding restrictions, fast bowlers are likely to dominate the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. Like other Asian teams, the Indians are not fully equipped to counter genuine pace and that’s where the Pakistanis can neutralize their much-vaunted batters. The tall Irfan, provided he is fully fit, should be a big threat for the Indians. The other two left-armers – Junaid Khan and Wahab Riaz – have troubled the Indians in the past and should trouble them again in Adelaide. Sohail Khan and Ehsan Adil complete Pakistan’s pace battery. The two right-armers are surprise choices in the national squad and it would be perfect for Pakistan if they prove to be surprises packages of the World Cup.
Pakistan will have to go on all-out attack against India. A four-pacer attack won’t be a bad idea though a final decision will only be possible once the team management takes a look at the wicket prepared for the Adelaide game.
Also important for Pakistan will be how senior stars like Misbah, Shahid Afridi and Younis Khan will fare in the match. Both Misbah and Afridi have a score to settle with the Indians. Afridi was captain and Misbah was singled out as the biggest culprit when India knocked Pakistan out of World Cup 2011 by beating them in the semifinal in Mohali.
For both of them, this will be their last World Cup game against India (unless both sides meet again in the final). Misbah will need to excel both as captain and as the team’s key batter. With Ajmal unavailable, Afridi will need to shine as a leggie and also as a pinch-hitter.
As far as Younis is considered, the former Pakistan captain can silence his many critics by doing what he does best: hammer India. Questions are still being asked whether Younis, with an unimpressive ODI form, deserved to be in the World Cup squad. The seasoned batsman can end this debate once and for all by hitting a match-winning knock against Dhoni and Co.
When Pakistan won the World Cup in 1992 one of the key ingredients in their recipe for success was the role of youngsters like Inzamam-ul-Haq. It would be important for them if young batters like Sohaib Maqsood and Ahmed Shehzad play to their potential in the crunch game.
I hope that things will fall into place for Pakistan because if that happens then they would be in a perfect position to change history.