Suspensions, injuries hampering Pakistan ahead of World Cup
ISLAMABAD (AP) — Suspensions and injuries to key players have taken a chunk out of Pakistan’s bowling stocks for the World Cup, meaning the 1992 champions will rely heavily on the likes of seasoned campaigners Misbah-ul-Haq and Shahid Afridi again.
The Pakistan captain and the veteran allrounder have already announced that they’ll retire from limited-overs international cricket after the World Cup, and Younis Khan is also likely to be competing in his last major event in the format. These three hold the keys to Pakistan’s chances of going all the way and repeating its run to the title the last time the World Cup was staged in Australia and New Zealand.
Pakistan has been grouped along with defending champion India, title contender South Africa, the unpredictable West Indies as well as Zimbabwe, United Arab Emirates and Ireland in Pool B.
Finishing in the top four of that group may seem reasonably straight-forward for Misbah’s squad, but Pakistan has some bitter memories against weaker sides at the World Cup — particularly a shocking defeat to Ireland in 2007 which knocked them out early in the Caribbean.
After fast bowler Umar Gul was ruled out, Pakistan had a critical blow when Junaid Khan injured his hamstring and could not compete in the two-match ODI series against New Zealand just before the World Cup. If the left-arm fast bowler can’t recover in time, it would be a severe blow to Pakistan’s prospects on the bouncy wickets of Australia and New Zealand.
Mohammad Irfan leads the bowling attack, but the tallest fast bowler in international cricket needs to be used cautiously alongside three inexperienced fast bowlers Ehsan Adil, Wahab Riaz and rookie Sohail Khan.
While there’s some concern over the pace attack, the absence of suspended offspinner Saeed Ajmal could prove to be a key factor in Pakistan’s campaign.
“We will feel the absence of Ajmal,” Pakistan’s spin coach Mushtaq Ahmed said. “The new players have to play their roles and if we play as a unit I am hopeful we can deliver.”
Yasir Shah has been picked as the second specialist legspinner alongside Afridi, with Pakistan waiting to see if offspinner Mohammad Hafeez will clear a test on his bowling technique before the World Cup. Even if Hafeez clears the test, the he couldn’t bowl in Pakistan’s opening match against India on Feb. 15 at Adelaide.
Pakistan has been playing most of its international cricket on the slow surfaces of the United Arab Emirates, where its batsmen plundered loads of runs lately against Australia and New Zealand. But the conditions for its batsmen will be tougher in the bouncier wickets in Australia and New Zealand. Losses in two warmup matches in New Zealand and a heavy loss in the first ODI against the Kiwis is not an encouraging sign for Misbah, who scored runs in all the three games.
Former captain Javed Miandad, who was part of Pakistan’s World Cup winning squad in 1992, said the current squad lacks experience in the middle-order and selectors have erred by not picking Shoaib Malik.
“Malik deserved to make at least one more comeback,” Miandad said. “Not only as a batsman, Malik could have easily filled the void of Hafeez’s offspin.”
Head coach Waqar Younis isn’t worried about the critics who give Pakistan little chance of winning another title at the Melbourne Cricket Ground next month.
“I am happy that we are not favorites because it’s a big pressure of being favorites,” Younis said.