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Pakistan intent on going out with all guns blazing

BRISBANE–February 28, 2015: For the last few World Cups, in fact in each and every one save two (Second-best in 1999, Semifinal in 2011 being the two exceptions) Team Pakistan’s back has mostly been to the wall, a crash-out either taking place in the quarterfinal (1996) or threat to its progressing to the knockout stage always remaining a possibility waiting-to-happen well before actually transpiring (2003, 2007).

After two big losses against two of the three topnotch outfits in this ‘group of death’, and with Ireland mustering two credible wins, against the Caribbeans and the UAE against the run of play, this time round it is no different.

And the ‘Cornered Tigers’ refrain has been buffed up again, and the charitable amongst the critics keep on reminding skipper Misbah-ul-Haq at every opportunity they get on how a fellow Niazi’s never-say-die spirit had lifted the green shirts to the top of the totem pole Down Under in 1992.

By the look of things this Niazi too has anything but a loser’s outlook.

As Team Pakistan limbered through its final training session out of five intensive, solid and well-structured ones in as many days, the entire squad seemed to be imbued with the spirit of going out Sunday with all its guns blazing.

Misbah’s message to his charges has been unequivocal: “Do not let the pressure of the situation or critics back home get to you. Go out and express yourself, without a care in the world.” Almost similar though couched in verbiage only slightly different has been the pep talk flowing from head coach Waqar Younis.

Over the years, Pakistan’s record against Zimbabwe has been quite overwhelming, and the Gabba in recent past (see Trivia) has generally been a happy hunting ground for Pakistan.

All this augurs well for Team Pakistan looking for a turnaround in its fortunes.

As a unit, both in batting and bowling, Pakistan must be looking forward for this encounter. Our batsmen must have noted the lack of firepower in Zimbabwe's bowling: 700 plus runs in return for just eight wickets out of 20 in their defeats against Ireland and the West Indies make the lack of teeth manifest.

The Zimbabwe batting is its stronger suit, but Pakistan’s pace and spin variations are potent enough to stifle and then prevail over it.

An interesting twist: our chief strategist of the recent past who knows Team Pakistan like the back of his hand, Dav Whatmore now sits in the Zimbabwe dugout. But then, as Misbah pointed out to a questioner in the pre-match presser, we also have two of their best in our corner in Grant Flower and Brad Robinson.

Quite a few from the media have been inquisitive about the make-up of the squad, the probable changes that is. The head coach and captain may have been mulling over this, but they tend to keep their cards really close to their chests where team composition is involved. So, wait on it until the team sheets are exchanged at the toss.

In the broader perspective, a key point to note: it is evident by now that every team regardless of its ICC ranking or its World Cup '15 billing is quite beatable – if it is taken on with positive intent. South Africa capitulated to India by 130 runs, Ireland trounced the West Indies and New Zealand scraped home against Australia by just one wicket despite bowling out their trans-Tasman rivals for a sub-150 total. With a bit of rub of the green going their way, the Aussies may have spoiled the Black Caps’ party in Auckland

So far only New Zealand and, given their being completely blanked out in this neck of the woods in the last couple of years, quite surprisingly India remain the unbeatable outfits. And since both have had their tough games out of the way by now, the duo look favourites to top their groups.

It only reflects there is hope for Team Pakistan, but only if they hold their catches, take wickets in the middle overs and do not contrive to lose wickets in a bunch.

(The writer is General Manager, Media, Pakistan Cricket Board, on assignment with Team Pakistan as Media Manager).


Trivia: Pakistan at the Gabba

  • Pakistan's overall record at Brisbane isn't that impressive. They have played 15 ODIs at the Gabba, winning six and losing eight with one ‘no result’.
  • There is a rider though: Pakistan has won four out of its last five ODIs at Brisbane, two against Australia and one each against the West Indies and India.
  • Pakistan also has some happy memories from this venue. Shoaib Akhtar took a five-wicket haul here, bowling Pakistan to a rare ODI series win by 2-1 in 2002 with present head coach Waqar Younis as captain.
  • Prior to that Pakistan also nailed a famous two-wicket win against India at Brisbane in 2000, successfully chasing the target on the last ball, with Waqar and Saqlain in a match-winning rearguard stand.
  • The Gabba is also witness to first-ever century in ODIs by a Pakistan wicket-keeper when Kamran Akmal accumulated a ton here against the West Indies in 2005.