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Cricket: Pakistan Faces a Host of Problems
World Cup squad is unfit and lacks morale and rhythm
Muhammad Jamil Bhatti (jamil)     Print Article 
Published 2007-02-15 06:57 (KST)   
Fans fear that Pakistan's 15-man squad may not fare well in the 2007 Cricket World Cup, which takes place next month in the West Indies, because most of the players have been having fitness problems or slumps.

Pakistan made some surprising decisions when it selected Danish Kaneria, a leg spinner, and three fast bowlers who have had fitness problems.

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Where the other teams may have to worry about a few issues here and there, Pakistan potentially faces a host of issues, any one of which could flare up at any time, if not all at the same time.

Pakistan selected fast bowlers Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammad Asif and Umar Gull after checking their medical reports, with the hope that they would improve before the World Cup started.

Shoaib and Asif may face penalties for doping. The team will undergo an internal dope test by Pakistan's cricket board on Feb. 17. If Shoaib and Asif still test positive for traces of Nandrolone (a steroid) they will be banned.

The cricket board denied newspaper reports that both fast bowlers had been tested secretly.

Salim Altaf, director of operations for the board, said, "Shoaib and Asif are selected subject to clearance in the fitness and drug tests of which results are expected during the first week of March."

He added:

Shoaib and Gull are subject to clearance of injuries. We are having a second opinion on Shoaib in London because he has shown signs of wear and tear. As for Gull, enough time has elapsed now since he got the injury. He is bowling six overs with a full run-up and the panel feels he will be fit for the World Cup so he has been included in the team. If anyone is unfit, he will be replaced.
The International Cricket Board has given Pakistan permission to replace the injured players in the squad before the World Cup starts.

Akhtar's knee injury kept him out of cricket last year. His fitness problems are attributed to his having weak bones in childhood. They just are not bearing the stress of his heavier body now.

Asif's physical fitness is also a crucial issue. He has been playing against South Africa with elbow troubles, an issue that compelled him to miss three Tests against England in 2006.

Gull had to miss the entire South African tour due to an ankle injury. He now says he is completely fit, but the reality is that he had a stress fracture that may or may not be healed before the World Cup.

Leg spinner Kaneria isn't injured. He's an integral part of Pakistan's Test team. But he is considered unfit for one-day internationals due to his weak fielding and batting. He has played only 16 ODIs in his six-year career. After coach Bob Woolmer's arrival in June 2004, he was allowed to appear in only seven matches, the last one against Scotland in June 2006. Recently he was sent back from South Africa after the test series.

On his selection, Kaneria said, "I am very pleased and surprised after this news. It is everyone's dream to participate in the World Cup and I was anxious to be involved. I have improved my fielding and batting recently. Now that I am in the squad, I will be happy to win the World Cup along with team."

Pakistan has three all-rounders with regular spin bowling abilities: Shoaib Malik, Shahid Afridi and Muhammad Hafeez. In this tight competition an extra bowler who is weak in fielding, like Kaneria, is a burden on team.

Imran Nazir has been in a long slump. He's failed in two matches out of three.

Wicket-keeper and batsman Kamran Akmal is also facing a bad spell with both gloves and bat.

Afridi has been banned for four matches and will not play in the first two matches of the World Cup.

Azhar Mahmood, Muhammad Sami, Shabir Ahmad, Yasir Hameed and Imran Farhat were dropped from the team.

Fast-medium bowler Rao Iftikhar made the team because of his fitness. He was given a chance in the last one-day against South Africa.

Former cricket stars have voiced their opinions about the selections for the team and Pakistan's expected performance in the World Cup.

Cricket legend Imran Khan said, "No doubt Australia is the heart favorite but Pakistan has more match-winning players than all the other teams. This team can do anything if it plays aggressively and positively."

Former test cricketer Haroon Rasheed said, "Pakistan team is a pack of problems and we must not expect something high from it."

Former batsman Javed Miandad says, "We selected the team in haste and with limited views. Bob Woolmer, and his team, is working without any prior planning."

Pakistan's team is notably unreliable. If its problems persist, it will be hard for it to reach the semifinals.

The fans in Pakistan are not expecting much from their team. Most of the people I have talked to said they very disappointed its team performance. Some have even said they had picked another favorite team to win the World Cup.

Pakistan batting will depend mostly on Inzamam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Yousuf and Younis Khan because Pakistan's opening combination is still a question mark.

Players will have only a few days to rest after they return from South Africa because they will move on to the Caribbean in early March. Pakistan will play its first warm up match against Canada on March 6. A boost in morale would do them a lot of good.

Pakistan's Team

1. Inzamam-ul-Haq, captain (batsman)
2. Younis Khan, vice-captain (batsman)
3. Mohammad Hafeez (all-rounder)
4. Imran Nazir (batsman)
5. Mohammad Yousuf (batsman)
6. Shoaib Malik (all-rounder)
7. Abdul Razzaq (all-rounder)
8. Shahid Afridi (all-rounder)
9. Kamran Akmal (wicket-keeper, batsman)
10. Shoaib Akhtar (fast bowler)
11. Mohammad Asif (fast-medium bowler)
12. Umar Gull (fast-medium bowler)
13. Danish Kaneria (leg spinner)
14. Rana Naved-ul-Hasan (fast-medium bowler)
15. Rao Iftikhar Anjum (fast-medium bowler)

Pakistan's World Cup Schedule (Group D)

Pakistan and West Indies will play the opening match of the World Cup:

March 13 - West Indies vs. Pakistan
March 17 - Ireland vs. Pakistan
March 21- Pakistan vs. Zimbabwe

All three matches will take place at Sabina Park, Kingston, Jamaica.
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Muhammad Jamil Bhatti

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