West Indies roadblock in Pakistan`s way to salvation
Mumbai: More will be at stake for Pakistan than just a World Cup semi-final spot when they take on West Indies in the first quarter-final on Wednesday in Dhaka.
The 1992 champions have been unable to play international matches at home since the 2009 armed attack on the Sri Lanka cricketers in Lahore and the recent spot-fixing scandal has raised serious doubts about their players` integrity.
The scandal robbed them of the services of Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir and, understandably, there were few prepared to bet on Pakistan winning the showpiece event for the second time.
The World Cup has presented itself as a chance of redemption for Shahid Afridi`s men.
They have stalled the wheels of Australia`s juggernaut by handing them their first defeat after 34 matches in the World Cup to complement a morale-boosting win over Sri Lanka.
The two top-flight wins and three other versus Zimbabwe, Canada and Kenya catapulted them to the top of the table in Group A, presenting them with an opportunity to play against Group B laggards West Indies. Bowling has been Pakistan`s strength in the tournament, with flamboyant captain Afridi leading the highest wicket-takers` list and speedster Umar Gul on sixth spot.
The duo have shared 30 wickets between themselves and will be a handful for the West Indies` batsman.
Misfiring openers and Afridi`s indifferent form with the bat will be the problems Pakistan need to solve to continue their momentum.
"We have a problem with our openers, definitely. Hopefully in the quarter-final they will do well. We need the openers to get more runs and the team to perform better," coach Waqar Younis said.
The team have tried Mohammad Hafeez, Ahmed Shehzad and Kamran Akmal at the top of the order but runs have failed to come.
Pakistan`s fielding, which has provided a few moments of comic relief, seems to have improved with the players throwing themselves around the field while pulling off brilliant saves and effecting runouts against Australia.
"Despite all the problems, Pakistan is blessed with talent. It`s because of this talent that we are a dangerous team and can win against anyone. We now hope to carry on the momentum," Afridi said after the win against Australia.
The only blemish for Pakistan in the tournament came against New Zealand when the bowling failed to restrict their opponents and the batting caved in under the pressure of chasing a 300-plus target.