Posts Tagged ‘ Pakistan Cricket ’

Pakistan Cricketer Mohammad Asif Freed After Fixing Scam Sentence

As Reported by The BBC

Pakistan cricketer Mohammad Asif, one of three jailed for a fixing scam, has been released after serving half of a 12-month sentence, his lawyer says.

Asif, 29, the former world number two Test bowler, was freed from Canterbury Prison in Kent on Thursday morning.

In November, Asif and team-mates Salman Butt and Mohammad Amir were jailed for a plot to bowl deliberate no balls in a Test match against England in 2010.

All three players were also given five-year playing bans.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said it did not comment on individuals.

“Foreign national offenders released from prison on licence will be supervised by probation for as long as they remain in this country,” he said.

Undercover reporter
The fixing scandal came to light when an undercover News of the World reporter approached sports agent Mazhar Majeed, who was also jailed for his role, pretending to be a wealthy Indian businessman seeking players for a tournament.

Majeed promised him that Asif and Amir would deliver three no-balls at specific points during the Test between Pakistan and England at Lord’s on 26-29 August 2010, and claimed to have been fixing games for over two years, with seven Pakistan players working for him.

At Southwark Crown Court in November, ex-Test captain Salman Butt, 27, was jailed for two-and-a-half years for his role as the “orchestrator” of the plot.

Explaining why he had bowled a no-ball when Majeed said he would, Asif alleged that Butt had told him to “run faster” moments before his delivery.

The trial judge, Mr Justice Cooke, said there was no evidence that Asif had taken part in fixing before the Lord’s match but added: “It is hard to see how this could be an isolated occurrence for you.”

Asif took his 100th Test wicket during Pakistan’s 2010 series in England.

He had run into controversy before. He twice tested positive for the performance-enhancing drug nandrolone and was held in Dubai for 19 days in 2008 after opium was found in his wallet.

Mohammad Amir was released from jail in February.

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The Stars of Pakistan’s Resurgence

By Jamie Alter for Cricket Next

Pakistan’s 3-0 sweep of England, the No. 1 Test team, in the UAE was the most glittering result for a team that has managed to hold its own on the field despite facing a mountain of problems off it. Here’s a look at the key players in Pakistan’s resurgence as a Test team.

Misbah-ul-Haq

Ten months ago, Misbah-ul-Haq was a condemned man whose time as an international cricketer seemed over after he was made the scapegoat for Pakistan’s defeat to India in the World Cup semi-final in Mohali. Today, he is being heralded as an astute leader of a team bristling with pride and rightful claims to being a top-level Test side. Handed the captaincy ahead of Pakistan’s series against South Africa in the UAE in 2010, the soft-spoken, almost laidback Misbah has been hugely influential in steering Pakistan from a host of troubles and to series wins over New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and England – not to forget a draw with South Africa – and just the anomaly of a 1-1 scoreline against West Indies.

He hasn’t always been a proactive captain – his reluctance to push for a win against Sri Lanka in Sharjah last November attracted criticism – but his numbers as leader have been highly impressive: 15 matches, 1165 runs, average 64.72, with one century and 12 fifties. That one century – an unbeaten 102 in the second innings at Basseterre – played a big role in Pakistan leveling the two-Test series in the West Indies in May 2011. Innings of 99 and 70 not out earned him the Man-of-the-Match award in Wellington in January 2011, and those were clutch innings in a draw that gave Pakistan their first series victory outside the subcontinent since a triumph in New Zealand in 2003-04, and their first anywhere since 2006-07. In the first innings of the second Test against England in Abu Dhabi, Misbah top-scored with 84 on day in which the opposition dominated, and what a key innings it proved.

Saeed Ajmal

If there is one player who personifies Pakistan’s new-found aggression and fluency, it is the leader of their immensely proficient spin attack. Ajmal, 34, has been a constant threat to opposing teams with his accurate, nagging and attacking offspin, with his doosra causing batsmen much strife. His role as a strike bowler – he has bowled 696 overs in those 12 Tests, the most for any Pakistan bowler – has taken pressure off Umar Gul and meant he has been relied on to consistently take wickets. His success is staggering.

In 12 Tests under Misbah, Ajmal has reaped 77 wickets an average of 22.63 and strike-rate of 54.20 – significantly lower than career figures of 26.70 and 61.20. Along the way he picked up Man-of-the-Match awards for eight wickets in a nine-wicket win over Sri Lanka and in Dubai and 10 – including a career-best 7 for 55 – in a 10-wicket win over England at the same venue. He was the leading Test wicket-taker in 2011, and so far this year he has grabbed 24 wickets in three Tests against England.

In this recent series, the England batsmen were largely baffled by Ajmal’s variety. In the second Test, he became the fastest Pakistan bowler to 100 Tests, and to make his achievement more remarkable, he has not played a single of his 20 Tests at home.

Abdur Rehman

If Ajmal has been an expected success during Pakistan’s run under Misbah, then the 31-year-old Abdur Rehman has been a surprise package. In 13 Tests, this canny left-arm spinner – enjoying unexpected success in his late-blooming career – has been a constant threat with 64 wickets at an average of 26.57. With an almost immaculate line and length he has attained turn and dip while convincing batsmen to play back when they should have been forward. Nothing summed this up better than the series against England, when he made several reputed batsmen appear hapless against spin, none more so than Eoin Morgan.

However, it was Rehman’s Man-of-the-Match performance against New Zealand at Hamilton in January 2011 that really made him a certainty in the playing XI. His three wickets in each innings and a crucial innings of 28 helped propel Pakistan to victory in the first Test. This year, a career-best 6 for 25 routed England for 72 as Pakistan grabbed the series in Abu Dhabi, and in the final Test his 5 for 40 was decisive in Pakistan reducing England’s lead to 42. His 19 wickets in the series played a huge role in a 3-0 scoreline, and highlighted what a key ingredient Rehman has been for Pakistan.

Like Ajmal, he has bowled a lot of overs – 683.4 – while rarely allowing the batsmen to dominate. Rehman’s batting has been handy too, with an average of 13.s8 and a half-century offering some stability to the lower order.

Umar Gul

The only fast bowler to play consistently under Misbah, Umar Gul has carried himself with discipline all throughout. Ajmal and Rehman have hogged the wickets, but Gul’s 49 victims at 29.79 have been every bit as crucial in the team’s success.
The reliance on spin has eased Gul’s workload – he has bowled 452.5 overs in 13 matches – and this has undoubtedly led to the tall fast bowler not breaking down from injury, as he was prone to do so earlier in his career. His eight-wicket haul at Wellington was a stand-out effort in overseas conditions, and even on tracks in the UAE he has plugged away relentlessly, as 29 wickets from eight matches show.

In the first Test in Abu Dhabi, Gul responded to a flat surface with a hostile spell on the third day – during which he surpassed 150 Test wickets – as his new-ball incursions bagged him four wickets before Ajmal and Rehman wrapped up the rest. In the third Test in Abu Dhabi, Gul’s four wickets on the final day set the course of the match categorically towards Pakistan. The spinners have been the talking point of Pakistan’s success, but Gul’s role cannot he underestimated.

Mohammad Hafeez

At last looking like he belongs at Test-match level, Mohammad Hafeez has flourished in his latest avatar as opener and key ingredient in Pakistan’s spin-heavy bowling attack.

With the bat, he has offered solidity to a top order that has for too long been shaky, scoring 967 runs in 15 Tests at an average of 38.68, including two centuries and four fifties. With Taufeeq Umar – another cricketer enjoying a new lease on his international career – Hafeez has stitched together three century stands and four of 50 or more. For a side that used to regularly chop and change openers during the last decade, Hafeez’s pairing with Taufeeq over 15 Tests has been nothing short of solid.

Relied on heavily with the ball – he has bowled 250 overs – Hafeez has repaid the faith with 51 wickets at 26.36. His brisk offspin has helped Ajmal and Rehman take much-needed breaks in the field, and when tossed the new ball in Guyana he responded with wickets. The highlight of Hafeez’s run over these 15 Tests was a fine all-round performance against Zimbabwe in Bulawayo, where Hafeez followed a quick-fire 119 with four wickets and a brisk 38 in a successful chase.

Taufeeq Umar

Given an extended run as opener after a four-year hiatus, the 30-year-old Taufeeq has scored 1055 runs in 15 Tests under Misbah while averaging 39.07. His batting hasn’t always been attractive, as a strike-rate of 43.18 indicates, but the fact that he has been able to deliver platforms has been immense. Two fifties in New Zealand helped blunt the threat of the home team’s pace bowlers in seam-friendly conditions, and his 135 in the second innings against West Indies at Basseterre helped Pakistan level the series.

A career-best 236 followed against Sri Lanka in Abu Dhabi, as Pakistan drew the first Test. It was a marathon effort that helped grind Sri Lanka patiently through the second day, and Taufeeq was just pipped by Kumar Sangakkara for the Man-of-the-Match award. A seventh Test hundred would come against Bangladesh soon after.

Taufeeq’s form trailed off after a fifty in the first innings of the series against England, but his success in Pakistan’s resurgence merits further persistence.

Younis Khan

The former Pakistan captain has come back excellently from a ban imposed by the PCB after allegations that he had been partially responsible for infighting within the team. His 1138 runs at 66.94, including four centuries and four fifties, have been invaluable to Pakistan.
His presence in the middle order has steadied the team numerous times, not least when he scored centuries against South Africa and Sri Lanka to go with twin fifties against New Zealand at Wellington. But his most responsible innings came in the second innings of the third Test against England, as an out of form Younis took the game away from the opposition with a superbly crafted century. Yet again, he had summoned the resolve to produce a century when his detractors were gunning for him.

Azhar Ali

Of the younger players that have flourished under Misbah, 26-year-old Azhar Ali has been the most successful. His 1220 runs from 15 matches at 50.83 include two centuries and 11 fifties, and he has been a consistent performer at No. 3. Three consecutive half-centuries against South Africa got him going after an indifferent start to his career, and from there he ploughed on with fifties against each of the teams he played. His two centuries – 100 against Sri Lanka and 157 against England – were proof that Azhar has a long career ahead of him.

England crashes to defeat to Pakistan spinners

By The Sydney Morning Hearld

Left-arm spinner Abdul Rehman took a career best 6-25 to help Pakistan humble England by 72 runs in the second Test in Abu Dhabi, to giving Pakistan unassailable 2-0 lead in the three-match series.
The 31-year-old twice took two wickets in successive overs to dent England’s chase after Andrew Strauss’s side was set a 145-run target on a weary fourth-day Abu Dhabi Stadium pitch.

England was all out for 72 – its lowest total against Pakistan in all Tests.
Rehman’s effort overshadowed Monty Panesar’s 6-62, in his first Test for England in 30 months, which finished Pakistan’s second innings at 214 in the morning.

This is England’s first series defeat after being unbeaten in its previous nine since a loss to the West Indies in early 2009 – a sequence which saw it rise to world No.1 in the Test rankings in August.
Pakistan won the first Test in Dubai by 10 wickets. The third Test will also be played in Dubai, from Friday.

Skipper Misbah-ul Haq said Pakistan wanted to make a match out of it after setting a tricky target.
“We knew that it would be difficult so we wanted to make a match out of it,” said Misbah, who has now won eight Tests with one defeat since taking over the captaincy in October 2010.

“Our bowlers, led by Rehman, responded well and this is a great win.” Strauss showed his disappointment at England’s woeful effort.
“It’s pretty disappointing,” said Strauss, whose side last lost two Tests in a row against South Africa in July 2008. “We must acknowledge how well Pakistan bowled and they thoroughly deserved the series win.”

Rehman was ably assisted by off-spinners Saeed Ajmal (3-22) and Mohammad Hafeez (1-11) in a match in which spinners dominated from the first day.
England lost its top four batsmen in the space of just 37 balls after an extra cautious start on a difficult pitch. Strauss top scored with 32 before he became one of Rehman’s victims during his maiden five-wicket haul.

In the penultimate over before tea, Rehman trapped Kevin Pietersen (one) and two balls later bowled Eoin Morgan (duck) to raise hopes of an unlikely win for Pakistan.

Sensing it could only upset its rival through early wickets, Pakistan opened the bowling with Hafeez, who responded well by catching Alastair Cook (seven) off his own bowling after England had edged cautiously to 21 by the 15th over.
Ian Bell, promoted to No.3 after Jonathan Trott was unwell, was all at sea against master spinner Ajmal and his tentative push went through his legs to hit the stumps. He made only three.

Pietersen, who has been woefully out of form with just 16 runs in the series, managed one before Rehman trapped him and in the same over had the equally out-of-form Morgan bowled to dent England’s hopes of a victory. Rehman then accounted for Trott (one) and Stuart Broad (duck) in the same over to leave England 7-68.

Ajmal dismissed Graeme Swann (duck) and Matt Prior (18) to reach 100 Test wickets in his 19th match, before James Anderson was caught off Rehman to give Pakistan a sensational win.

Earlier, Pakistan lost its last six wickets for 89 runs after resuming at 4-125, with all hopes pinned on Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq. Panesar took three of those wickets to finish with his eighth five-wicket haul in Tests. Azhar Ali (68) and Asad Shafiq (43) added 88 for the fifth wicket before Panesar struck.

Afridi Asks Zardari For Help

As Reported by The AFP

Former captain Shahid Afridi appealed to President Asif Ali Zardari for help on Wednesday after his central contract was suspended when he announced his retirement from international cricket. “I have appealed to the president to intervene urgently, also deal with other issues and save the game from getting into more crises,” Afridi told AFP by telephone from Southampton.

Afridi confirmed that the England and Wales Cricket Board stopped him from playing after the PCB revoked its permission.
“The captaincy was not an issue as I have already played under senior players, but it was a matter of self respect and honour which was hurt,” said Afridi who refused to speak about the PCB sanctions.

The opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N party has already submitted an adjournment motion in the national assembly against Afridi’s punishment.
Former Pakistan captain Imran Khan, who now heads his own opposition party, said the PCB was not run professionally.
“The board is not run like an institution,” Khan told a television channel. “Afridi feels injustice is done so he has taken a decision and you don’t change four-five captains in a year.”

“Just recently everyone was praising Afridi after he led Pakistan to the semi-final of the World Cup and then suddenly this happened,” said Khan. “The board is also run on ad-hoc basis like the country,” he added.
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), which belongs to the coalition government headed by Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party, also objected to the sanctions on Afridi. “President Zardari should take notice of the biased attitude of the board,” said MQM leader Farooq Sattar. “You don’t treat national heroes like this.”

Sports Minister Shaukatullah Khan lashed out at PCB chairman Ijaz Butt over the “injustice” and said he would discuss the matter with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.

Abdul Ghaffar Qureshi, who heads the sports committee in the upper house of parliament, demanded Butt’s sacking.
“A change in the PCB is imperative,” said Qureshi. “Butt has not allowed any captain to settle so it will be better to sack him.”

The 31-year-old all-rounder, dumped as one-day captain following a row with coach Waqar Younis last month, quit international cricket in protest at his treatment by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB).
In response, the PCB suspended his central contract and revoked all his no-objection certificates, meaning he will not be officially permitted to play overseas.

The move will stop him from playing for Hampshire in England’s Twenty20 league and in next month’s Sri Lankan Premier League.
Afridi said that he came to know about his removal from the team’s captaincy through media and the board did not bother to inform him about that decision.

India’s World Cup Cricket Victory: The Measure of a Nation

By Gethin Chamberlain for The Guardian

It is 3pm in a small British bar in the tourist state of Goa about 550km south of Bombay – where the country’s cricketers are harrying Sri Lanka’s batsmen in the early overs of the World Cup final.

It is 28 years since India last won this most cherished of titles in a nation so crazy about the game. There are fewer than nine hours to go until it does so again. But we don’t know that yet.

Mohinder Amarnath, the man of the match in the 1983 World Cup, is certain, however, that the moment has arrived to repeat his team’s success. Every Indian can realise their dreams through the 11 men on the field today, he says.

He need not have worried. Corrin, the eponymous owner of the Goan bar, is reaching for a brush, and dipping it into the pot of orange acrylic paint on the table in front of her. She holds the arm of the little Indian girl in front of her, draws the first rectangle of the national flag, hands the brush to Sonny, the barman, and watches him draw the white and green stripes. The girl, the daughter of the beautician who runs the shop upstairs, beams, delighted, and skips away to show off her affirmation of support for the home team.

In the street outside, a truck thunders by, horn blaring, Indian flags fluttering in from the cab. The picture is repeated across the country; millions are glued to their televisions or radios, donning their replica shirts, daubing themselves in the national colours. India is partying; each successful delivery from its bowlers greeted by a round of beating drums. The country that has made cricket its national game is certain that this year, finally, it will capture the ultimate prize, the World Cup.

India is certain that this is no more than it is due. It has already celebrated what many in the country regard as the real final, victory over its most reviled opponent, the notoriously unpredictable – unless you happen to be a friendly bookmaker – Pakistan team, which on Wednesday managed to throw away a magnificent bowling performance to lose ignominiously.

And India was desperate for this victory; the humiliation of the Commonwealth Games corruption scandal was still fresh; the country’s recent diplomatic successes – not least towards a permanent seat on the UN Security Council – has been overshadowed by fresh concerns about its aspiration to be regarded as a first world nation.

This is a nation demanding international approval: buoyed by the news that projections now show it will overtake China as the world’s most populous nation by 2030, there is a sense that its time has come.

As Saturday dawned, prayers were said, puja [offerings to the gods] were made, anything to give the Indian team an edge. Across the country, people painted themselves in the blue of the national team strip or in the orange, white and green of the flag, and prepared to party.

Bars and hotels hiked prices and charged admission to the more rarefied environments. In many places, TV screens were set up and even when the big screen was not an option, the nation gathered anywhere that a television was on, peering over each other’s shoulders to catch a glimpse of the match.

In Corrins’, even Sonny was applauding as Sri Lanka upped the ante in their final overs, smashing the ball hither and thither. Then a nation of – according to the new census figures – 1.2 billion fell silent as top batsman Sehwag fell to the second ball of the Indian innings.

Yet important as the game was, some felt that there was a sense of anticlimax after the Pakistan game. “The excitement among people is lacking,” Manoj Kumar, a hotel manager, told the Times of India.

Not so among the Sri Lankans, who had sidled into the final without the fireworks of the Indian progress. Captain Kumar Sangakkara pulled no punches when he explained what it meant to a country even more desperate for international approval after the end of three decades of bloody civil war: “It means everything. We have come through a very tough period. A lot of people have laid down lives for our country. In this new future, hopefully we can take home the World Cup, and that will be even more occasion for celebration.”

Gautam Gambhir, the Indian batsman who stabilised the nation’s innings after the loss of influential opener Sehwag, was no less compelling when he told a news channel that India had to win to honour the dead of the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai: “For me it will be dedicated to the people who lost their lives in the 26/11 massacre.”

For India, the desire to be taken seriously by other nations in sport is perhaps more important than diplomatic point-scoring. Like its neighbour China, it has been unable to translate a mass of bodies into international sporting success. In terms of international trade, it has come on in leaps and bounds, yet still it is unable to project that power into other fields.

Such desperation for success was reflected in the way many in the country fell back on superstition in their desire to ensure success. One fan, Ritangshu Bhattacharya, from Delhi, assured journalists that he would be attempting to tip the odds in India’s favour by defying nature: “I won’t pee in the entire match… I feel whenever I go to the loo, a wicket falls or India drops a catch.”

Even his stoicism was outdone by one politician from the state of Madhya Pradesh, who stood from 10am to 10pm during the India-Pakistan match.

In Corrins’, there is no doubt about who should have won: “You have to support the team, don’t you?,” she said. “We live here, we have to support the local team, however it goes.”

It is 10.45pm, and MS Dhoni, the Indian captain, is hammering the ball to the boundary again. Six to win, two overs. There are fireworks going off everywhere, drowning out the commentary. India knows it has won. It is the Pakistan game all over again: victory from defeat, India defiant.

Six runs, and he smacks it over the boundary. The fireworks explode. In the cities, there is madness; in the villages, too, people are hugging and screaming. The firecrackers are exploding, the night a blur of colour. India wins.

India vs Pakistan – much more than just a game

By Anand Philar for Sify

With one stroke, India banished the ghosts of the 2003 final and the fantastic win at Motera virtually ended an era of Aussie dominance. Earlier this year, Ponting’s men lost the Ashes and now the World Cup, but like all great players, Punter left an indelible mark on the tournament with a century in what probably was his last CWC game.

While we rejoice the Indian win, let us show some grace and salute the Aussies for their achievements on the field that, sadly, has been sullied by the behaviour of some of the players. The sheer outpouring of emotions by Yuvraj and Raina after the winning boundary hit was indicative of the value the Indian team attaches to any win against the Aussies. Yes, it is always special to beat a top side even if it is on its way down.

India vs Australia: Turning point and Top performers

If anybody thought Australia are the favourites to win the Cup, then such presumption was based on the team’s track record of three consecutive triumphs, two of them under Ponting’s captaincy. As it turned out, pace, hitherto Australia’s biggest weapon, was unable to deliver and the absence of a quality spinner, much less a pair of them, eventually hurt them far more than their opponents.

On a Motera pitch that was on the slower side and assisting spin, the Aussies went at the Indians with a bevy of fast bowlers hoping to exploit the well-known weakness against the rising delivery. It was a ploy that boomeranged on the Aussies whose lone specialist spinner Krejza was just about club standard.

The fact that the three Aussie slow bowlers Krejza, Clarke and Hussey, sent down only 17 overs as against 33 by their Indian counterparts accurately reflects the difference in approach of the two teams. I feel that proved to be the decisive factor.

I am sure, Ponting would have given his arm to have a Shane Warne bowling during the Yuvraj-Raina partnership that eventually turned the game around for India or for that matter a Hayden or Gilchrist to light up their fragile batting.

India end Australia`s 12-year reign to reach semis

So, having lost to the two top sub-continental sides, Pakistan (in the league phase) and India, the Aussies return home well and truly beaten, leaving the two neighbours in a face-off at Mohali next week.

Although the Pakistanis also have beaten the Aussies, the Indian win came under far greater pressure and in a knock-out situation that offered no safety net. As such, I would rate the Motera win much higher than the one in Colombo where the Aussies fell for 176 to Pakistani spinners.

Of course, all that is history now that India and Pakistan clash at Mohali in a game that can be equated to a Brazil vs Argentina football game in terms of interest, rivalry and of course, the immense pressure on the teams to deliver.

For all that, I will still back India who I feel are better equipped than Pakistan, be it in batting or bowling with the teams being on par at fielding. The spin quotient virtually gets negated since it is a staple diet for the rival batsmen while it is not as if the two teams have a Lee or a Tait or a Johnson in their ranks to trouble anyone with searing pace. It is India’s superior batting line-up that could well tilt the scales.

Further, it will also boil down to the collective character and resilience to withstand the pressure of expectations. I have covered more than my share of Indo-Pak sporting encounters in some of the major sports to say that the levels of passion and emotions among the rival players defy words. You have to be in it to know it.

Since the rivalry between the two neighbours transcends sports and given the historical political enmity (never mind the diplomatic mumbo-jumbo to the contrary), even a sporting victory or defeat that is a mere pinhead in the big picture of life, triggers mass euphoria as if it were a Kargil.

The players themselves might not admit it in public, but the irrefutable fact is the adrenaline rush is greater and the emotions are on the boil among the contestants. It will never be ”just another game” regardless of at what stage the two teams meet and it being a World Cup semi-final, one can imagine the pressure on the players.

World Cup 2011

Under the circumstances, the saying that cricket is played more in the mind than on the field cannot be any truer in an Indo-Pak contest. We have said this before, but needs to be reiterated that ultimately, the team that blinks first will lose. The cricketing aspects such as team combination, technique, strategy and what have you, are secondary.

In effect, the stakes, like it or not, admit it or not, are much more than cricketing gains or losses. So, tighten your seatbelts and on to Mohali!

Can Pakistan Tame Australia?

By Will Davies for The Wall Street Journal

Saturday’s Group A match between Pakistan and Australia is a tough one to predict, as is generally the case when Pakistan plays. One team – Australia – epitomizes consistency and solidity, while the other – Pakistan – is about as well-adjusted and reliable as a moody teenager.

On its day, Pakistan is one of the best sides at this World Cup, but on other occasions the team looks disorganized and uninterested. That’s one of the reasons why Pakistan is such a fascinating team to watch – you never quite know what you’re going to get.

This unpredictability can work in its favor as opponents struggle to form and stick to a game plan. Of all the sides at the World Cup, Australia is the most capable of dealing with Pakistan’s maverick approach, but it will have to tread carefully and blow off the rust that has tinged its performances thus far.

If the likes of Shahid Afridi and Shoaib Akhtar – two players who are such fun to watch – perform well, then Pakistan is in with a chance of upsetting Australia in Colombo and ending its incredible 34-match unbeaten run in World Cup cricket.

Australia has been prowling quietly but menacingly on the verges of this tournament, snapping up victims, while other teams – particularly in Group B – struggle to gain momentum and avoid upsets. But the Australians aren’t the threat they once were, and their World Cup record looks more vulnerable than in previous tournaments when the team boasted superstars like the Waugh brothers, Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Adam Gilchrist.

Australia’s captain Ricky Ponting is out of sorts with the bat and angry in the field. It looked like he was ready to thump Steven Smith when his teammate bumped into him as he took a catch in Wednesday’s match against Canada.

Smith is looking increasingly at ease in the Australian squad, but he’d do well to tread a little carefully, particularly when near Ponting’s toes. The Sydney-born youngster is a player of great promise and is now a regular in the Australian team, but he is yet to really shine. He needs a big performance, otherwise he risks slipping into nearly-man territory.

Pakistan has had its ups and downs this World Cup, from the heights of beating Sri Lanka to the lows of collapsing against New Zealand and a Ross Taylor batting onslaught. Australia beat New Zealand convincingly, while the match against Sri Lanka was cut short by a huge thunderstorm, an unfortunate outcome as the game was shaping up nicely and Australia, for once, looked like it had a tough opponent to deal with.

The weather forecast for tomorrow isn’t promising, but hopefully the rain will stay away from Colombo as matches between teams like Australia and Pakistan are the big occasions that make the World Cup so special.

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