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Final throw of the dice for Pakistan

By Asif Iqbal
March 03, 2003 20:39 IST
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There have been quite a few matches in this World Cup that have been billed as 'do or die', but the Pakistan-Zimbabwe match, the final pool game in the tournament, is truly one that deserves such a billing.

Both teams have a chance of making it to the Super Sixes stage but Pakistan's task is steeper than Zimbabwe's. For Zimbabwe, a win will do, but Pakistan need a big win if they are to boost their net run rate to beat England's, which, so far, is the highest among the three nations vying for the third Super Sixes slot from Pool A.

Zimbabwe have been playing good cricket throughout the tournament and although they have lost to Australia and India their performances have been encouraging. If they have a flaw it must be an over-reliance on Andy Flower, who is by a comfortable distance their most productive batsman.

Pakistan will try hard to get him early, whether Zimbabwe bat first or second. For Pakistan, the plan must be to try and win the toss and bat first and get as big a score as possible.

The batting performed with much greater assurance against India than it has done in recent games, but even then the fluency was missing. Yousuf Youhana, for example, got in and scored 25, but lost his wicket as soon as he tried to increase the tempo.

Younis Khan too could do no better than nudge the singles. Inzamam-ul Haq looked much better in his brief innings of three balls than he has done so far in this tournament, but three balls is not a lot to go by. He simply has to strike form Tuesday, for Pakistan is really in the last chance saloon.

This may be just the situation which would justify sending Shahid Afridi up the order. Wickets in South Africa at this time of the year, when there is moisture in the atmosphere, and bounce off the surface are not ideally suited to pinch hitting, but perhaps with their backs so far back to the wall, and in a situation in which there cannot be anything further to lose, such a gamble would be justified.

If Afridi can get a quickfire 50 or 60 it should be much easier for Inzamam, Youhana and Younis to pile it on. The big plus point in Pakistan's batting effort would have to be the return to form of Saeed Anwar, who hit a superb century against India, albeit in a losing cause. This should give him the confidence to pulverise a weaker bowling attack like Zimbabwe's.

The bowling on the other hand has to perform with much greater discipline than it has done in the past. The virtues of line and length must come before an attempt to try and blast the opposition out, especially if Pakistan bat first and manage to put up a sizeable score. Restricting Zimbabwe will also be important as Zimbabwe has a better net run rate than Pakistan. So discipline will count, and that means keeping an eye on the wides and no balls.

Although one hopes that Pakistan somehow makes it to the Super Sixes, one fears they may have left themselves too much to do. They are lucky that Australia managed to bring off a surprise victory against England after being 135 for 8 chasing 204. Had England won they would have got 16 points and Pakistan would have been out. Only a Zimbabwe win against Pakistan would have prevented England's entry into the Super Sixes.

That did not happen and Pakistan live to fight another day. That must bring back memories of 1992, when Pakistan were all but out of the tournament, bowled out by England for 74 only to be reprieved by the rain. They went on to win the World Cup -- and history does have a way of repeating itself.

Another reason for Pakistan to pull it off against Zimbabwe is that Wasim Akram deserves a better send off. It would be disappointing for him and all Pakistanis if the greatest left arm bowler the world has even seen were to leave the international arena in the first round of the World Cup. His colleagues will make every effort to lift themselves for they must realise that he deserves that much.

(The writer is the former captain of Kent and Pakistan).

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Asif Iqbal