Buoyant Pakistan on pole against rattled Windies
DHAKA - Confident Pakistan take on the West Indies in the World Cup quarter-finals on Wednesday hoping to continue their winning run in the tournament against a side bruised by recent defeats. The hugely talented, but unpredictable, Pakistanis have been the revelation of the tournament so far by topping Group A with five wins in six matches in the preliminary league. The West Indies inexplicably lost their last two games against England and India from dominant positions to finish fourth in Group B with three wins, the same as Bangladesh, but with a superior run-rate. Shahid Afridi's Pakistan saved the best for the end when they broke three-time defending champions Australia's unbeaten streak of 34 World Cup matches with a four-wicket win in Colombo on Saturday.
It was just the tonic Pakistan needed after being stripped of big-time cricket at home due to security concerns in their volatile nation and tainted by an unsavoury spot-fixing scandal. The absence of former captain Salman Butt and pace spearheads Mohammad Aamer and Mohammad Asif due to the controversy was not felt as the team rallied superbly under their inspirational captain. Afridi is the tournament's leading bowler with 17 wickets with his fastish leg-breaks, while seamer Umar Gul has kept the pressure on at the other end with 13 wickets.
All-rounder Afridi may have failed with the bat so far with just 65 runs in six games, but young guns Umar Akmal and Asad Shafiq have shone brightly in their first World Cup. Akmal has scored 211 runs at 52.75 and Shafiq averages 124 in the two games he has played so far, while seasoned seniors like Misbah-ul Haq and Younis Khan have lent solidity to the middle-order. Team manager Intikhab Alam, who was coach when Pakistan won the 1992 World Cup under Imran Khan, was delighted with his side's performance so far. The former captain attributed the success to "self-belief, fitness and high energy levels."
"There's a lot of positive energy among the boys after the victory over Australia and we will take that into the quarter-finals," Intikhab said. "We are peaking at the right time." The West Indies, in contrast, appear to be falling apart just when it matters most. They were on the brink of victory against England in Chennai when, chasing a modest target of 244, they were comfortably placed at 222-6 before losing their last four wickets for three runs. Against India on Sunday, they caved in again as eight wickets fell for 34 runs after they were 154-2 and lost by 80 runs.
The West Indies have now lost 18 successive matches against the leading nations, but Darren Sammy's men cannot afford another defeat in the knock-out rounds.
All is, however, not over yet for the West Indies. They return to the Sher-e-Bangla stadium in Dhaka where they shot out Bangladesh for their lowest one-day total of 58 in the league to romp home by nine wickets in a match that lasted under two hours. Batting star Chris Gayle and key fast bowler Kemar Roach are expected to be back after missing the India game, Gayle with a abdominal strain and Roach due to illness. Sammy said he was aware of Pakistan's threat, but remained confident his team can bounce back strongly. "Pakistan have done well so far, but hopefully they will have their bad match against us and we will bring our A game," he said.