As Pakistan prepare to take on England in their crucial Group A World Cup tie on Saturday, Pakistan fans must surely be hoping that their team wins, although Pakistan's performance against Australia must make many feel they are not quite sure what to expect. That up and down display in which over the course of 50 overs they swung from the sublime to the very, very mundane highlighted the main problem with this extremely talented Pakistani side lack of consistency.
Their confidence must have been a bit low after that performance, but then again they must have been boosted by the rout of Namibia, especially when the minnows proved they were no pushovers against England. Yet, even against Namibia, the batting, tentative and searching, showed that the problems of lack of confidence have still to be surmounted.
Wickets in South Africa have had something for the bowlers, especially in the first 12 to 15 overs. Or it may be the white ball. Whatever it is, the early overs have needed to be safely negotiated. Neither of the two opening combinations tried in the two matches so far have suggested that they might be up to the task. That puts pressure on players lower down the order who, already short of runs and confidence, have found themselves coming in with wickets having gone down and the run rate nothing to write home about, making life altogether more difficult for them.
Pakistan's entire batting line up has to lift itself up, but obviously the main effort has to come from the top order. In spite of his recent poor run, I would still maintain that Inzamam is Pakistan's best batsman. Struggling though he may be, he should still be coming in at number three and be given the maximum possible time at the crease. If Inzamam fails,
Pakistan will always struggle, but the struggle will be more uphill if he fails coming in at number four.
The other and altogether more desperate way of trying to get out of the armlock that the batting seems to be finding itself in is to promote Wasim Akram to the number three slot in the role of a pinch hitter, where he appears to have a far better chance of being able to deliver than Shahid Afridi. This would obviously be a ploy to be resorted to if a wicket falls early, which somehow does not appear to be that distant a possibility. Wasim has the experience and at the
moment seems to be hitting the ball very cleanly. He has been getting the runs at number eight and though it does not necessarily follow that he will get runs at number three, the argument is that a quickfire 25 or 30 from him at that position will be much more meaningful than at number eight.
Lower down the order, his efforts are usually in a lost cause but if he can reproduce that form higher up, he just might
give those who follow a better chance and more confidence by upsetting the bowling a bit. It is a gamble and admittedly a pretty wild one at that, but the situation is desperate enough. Pakistan cannot expect to get very far in this World Cup if plan A consists of trying to bowl the opposition out for 170 and there is no plan B. That saddles the bowling with
an unbearable and even unfair burden.
While Pakistan has obvious problems with its batting, England cannot be said to be in the best frame of mind. They have just come off a bruising tour of Australia and then managed to get themselves involved in a political controversy which, I feel, did not do either the players or the England Cricket Board any credit. Nasser Hussain seemed to become unnecessarily involved in what was not a cricketing matter at all, when he would have done infinitely better to have
taken a leaf out of the book of New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming and Australian captain Ricky Ponting who, finding themselves in similar situations, left the matter entirely up to their respective boards, saying they would be happy to abide by whatever their boards decided.
Nasser, perhaps whipped up by the media, took a more frontal role, without, it seems, a full appreciation of the political nuances of the situation. His outburst against the ICC that it should have foreseen the Zimbabwe situation is less than fair
and reflects only his own frustrated state of mind. That mental state seems to be reflected in England's two outings so far against Holland and Namibia which have produced very ordinary performances, to say the least, with Namibia's part-timers giving them a healthy fright.
Nasser himself is said to be uncertain about his fitness for the Pakistan match, having missed the Namibia game with a stiff neck. Indeed, England will have to lift their game a good few notches if they are to make sure that Pakistan, notwithstanding all the problems with its batting, comes out second best.
I think thus far we have been extremely lucky with the weather. Should it start to interfere with the tournament in a big way, it could distort results completely. That is a factor all the teams will have to keep in mind after the West Indies' experience with Bangladesh, although there is not a great deal they can do about it. But should the rain, which has
always threatened at the periphery of the World Cup, play a bigger role, the question is bound to come up why an additional day was not allocated for matches, give that there are days on which no matches are scheduled, that no venue has two matches on two consecutive days and no team is required to play on consecutive days. It would be intriguing to know the answer to that.
Asif Iqbal is the former captain of Kent and Pakistan