Pakistan look to calm nerves with big victory

PALLEKELE, Sri Lanka: Pakistan will hope to calm their calm nerves on Monday (today) with a win against Zimbabwe here at the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium — a result that will assure them of a World Cup quarterfinal spot.

Stung by an embarrassing 110-run loss against New Zealand in their last outing, Pakistan have been pretty focused in the nets over the last few days with skipper Shahid Afridi saying on Sunday that his side is looking for a big win over the Zimbabweans.

“We will try to put a decent total on the board and defend it and get them out as soon as possible,” Afridi told reporters here.

But putting decent totals have become a difficult task for the Pakistan who were bowled out for just 184 by minnows Canada and then for 192 by New Zealand in their previous two matches.

Their openers — Mohammad Hafeez and Ahmed Shehzad — have flopped in all four outings while the otherwise prolific middle-order was also unable to shine in the games against Canada and New Zealand.

But Afridi is confident that his team will bounce back today. “We didn’t perform well in field, with ball or bat in our last game but we have learnt from our mistakes. We should be more focused on the way we are going to start with the bat, the way we bowl with the new ball,” he said.

There were expectations that Pakistan will make substantial changes in their line-up but Afridi made it clear that he is not interested in any experimentation. “This is not the right time to experiment. During the competition we are trying to keep the same momentum with just one or two changes,” he said.

Pakistan, however, decided to rest pacer Shoaib Akhtar and Umar Akmal, who is nursing a finger injury. Young batsman Asad Shafiq is expected to make his World Cup debut while left-arm pacer Wahab Riaz will replace Akhtar.

Afridi believes Pakistan have a balanced combination in spite of a couple of poor performances. “It’s a very good combination but the boys are not performing. We are trying to give them confidence to perform.

Pakistan’s hopes of a big score on what seems like a batting paradise at Pallekele will rest on their vice-captain Misbah-ul-Haq, who has scored 192 in the event at an average of 64 and former captain Younis Khan.

Zimbabwe, meanwhile, are looking to raise their game after a series of poor outings in this tournament.

“I think the concern is to put a positive total on the board and that’s what’s been our problem,” said Alan Butcher, their English coach.

“I am happy with the way the team has performed in the field. Most of the time we have bowled well but haven’t posted a good total. The minimum realistic target is 250 and if we score that then we have a chance against most teams.”

Zimbabwe will look towards their captain Elton Chigumbura who turn 25 today hoping that he will put in the sort of showing that birthday boy Ross Taylor produced to propel New Zealand to a big win last Tuesday.

But their key man will be Brendan Taylor who is their top scorer with 140 runs in the tournament.

Zimbabwe are well aware that a win against Pakistan will keep them alive in the tournament. They are expected to beat Kenya in their last Pool A game and if Pakistan lost against Australia on March 19, the Zimbabweans might leapfrog into the quarters.

Pakistan have an overwhelming 36-2 record against Zimbabwe. They have never lost to the African side in the World Cup.

Teams (likely):

Pakistan: Mohammad Hafeez, Ahmed Shehzad, Kamran Akmal (wk), Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq, Asad Shafiq, Shahid Afridi (captain), Abdul Razzaq, Abdur Rehman, Umar Gul, Wahab Riaz.

Zimbabwe: Brendan Taylor, Regis Chakabva, Tatenda Taibu (wk), Craig Ervine, Elton Chigumbura (captain), Greg Lamb, Prosper Utseya, Graeme Cremer, Ray Price, Tinashe Panyangard, Chris Mpofu.