A dominant 10 wicket win over the West Indies in the first Quarter Final of the 2011 world cup. A captain who is leading from the front in terms of bowling (Highest number of wickets so far in the tournament at 20). Fielding which seems to be for the moment on upward scale. And a team which is just bursting with spirit and energy. Pakistan will go into their Semi Final clash with either Australia / India with a great bit of momentum.
Before the start of the tournament we were largely favoured to reach the quarters by simply beating the minnows and a maybe win against the Kiwis. Well, we topped the group, beat defending champions Australia (with a commanding bowling performance) and pre tournament favourites Sri Lanka (at their home ground). Afridi is definitely a major reason for their success. He is an aggressive captain and shows the hunger for success. He might not be doing it with the bat but his bowling is on an incredible role. 20 wickets in 7 matches. The attitude is right at the top.
Waqar Younis is also to be commended for an excellent job as coach. The entire coaching staff has worked well with the team to stay on a positive tune since ‘spot fixing’ scandal last year.
The focus and strategy seems to be in place. Let’s not think about the final from day 1. Take it a game at a time. Apart from the New Zealand match we have fairly been in control. Keeping and fielding has been a huge concern as always but the last two matches have seen a more solid performance in those areas as well. Momentum is definitely on our side but the Semi Final at Mohali will present difficult challenges regardless of who we face.
In Australia we will face 4 time world champions whose 34 match unbeaten run was brought to an end by us in the group stages. Revenge will definitely be on their minds. There won’t be any love lost between the two sides. They might have been a little sluggish in the group stages having faced Pakistan at the back of long breaks and not really having faced tough opposition or challenge prior to their clash. But if they make it to the Semis they would have defeated undoubtedly the most hyped pre tournament favourites in India. And that too on their home ground. That would definitely give them a boost. It would mean they would have picked up their pace and performance. They will be firing on all cylinders. However Pakistan won’t be intimidated. It will be a battle between the unpredictable Pakistan and the still somewhat unyielding Aussies. The crowd might JUST be behind Pakistan to an extent…given that the Australians aren’t liked much by any crowd other then in Australia. Also the fact that they would have knocked out the home team would be incentive enough. But it is still Pakistan….. India’s arch rivals.
Which brings us to the mouth watering prospect of an India-Pakistan semi final clash at Mohali. This fixture would undoubtedly create an atmosphere un like any other in the world cup so far. The crowds in Mohali will be buzzing. Pakistan will be under immense pressure facing the mammoth home support. The fact that they have never won against India in world cups in 6 meetings will also be on their heads. It will be intense. It will be fantastic. Both sides have their flaws and their strengths. Fielding is a weak area for both of them. India has a formidable batting line up and Pakistan have a deadly bowling attack. This clash will be decided more or less in the India’s Innings. Tendulkar will be pumped in what might be his last world cup. Afridi has the desire and hunger to emulate Imran Khan, to lift the coveted trophy as he did in ‘92. But let’s not rule out the fact that Dhoni and company although will undoubtedly will have fantastic home advantage and support they will be under immense pressure as well. The idea of a semi final win against Pakistan in India is just as inspiring as much as a loss to Pakistan in India is pressurizing. It will not be easy for either team. In the battle of India’s near invincible batting and Pakistan’s fierce bowling attack, nerves will be the decider.
There will be two big questions for Pakistan to answer: Shoaib Akhtar or Wahab Riaz? Saeed Ajmal or Abdur Rehman?
I think Saeed Ajmal is a wicket taker. He can do a good job at containing runs as well. India will play spin well… so containing them might not be an option. We will need the wicket taker. Rehman did well in the game against Australia but I would still fancy Ajmal more.
Wahab Riaz is a talented youngster but hardly in the same league as Amir that he can immediately claim a place in the 11. He still lacks consistent discipline in line and length. I would pump Akhtar to perform in his final two matches for Pakistan. To follow up his announcement to retire from the game with World Cup winning performances. He is a strike bowler. Fitness is a concern. But that can be managed if he is used wisely and in short bursts. He will find his motivation to perform.
Whoever wins tomorrow and whoever is in the playing 11 for the semi final, I think Pakistan have performed well in this World Cup and neither opponent should compel us to immediately assume Mohali will be the end of our campaign. We will fight it out. We won’t give up. Unpredictable we might be … but I have every reason to be optimistic. I say bring it on in Mohali. BRING ON INDIA! BRING ON AUSTRALIA! The Green team will march to Mumbai for the final IA! :D