Sunday, 6 March 2011

Pakistan dismiss concerns about balance

Pakistan may have a 100% record halfway into the group stage of the World Cup but concerns about the balance of the side refuse to go away. On Thursday, they completed an ultimately comfortable, but mostly tense, 46-run win against Canada, but their batting flopped under grey skies as they were bowled out for 184 in just 43 overs. In the end, Pakistan were indebted to captain Shahid Afridi, who ripped through Canada's chase, ending with his second five-for in three games.
The opening pair of Mohammad Hafeez and Ahmed Shehzad were separated early for the third straight game, but it was the inability of the lower middle order to rally that will be of greater concern. Pakistan have selected a deep batting line-up, with Abdul Razzaq coming in as low as number eight, to guard against precisely the kind of top order stutter they suffered against Canada. They have persisted with selecting only three specialist bowlers, relying on allrounders such as Razzaq and Hafeez to complete the fifth bowler's ten overs: so potent has Afridi been that he is increasingly a specialist bowler.
"Everyone has the right to give his opinion but we have not closed our eyes and ears," Intikhab Alam, the team manager, said on Sunday after a practice session. "The team management is doing its homework and whatever is in the best interest of the team they do it. In a cricket match 7-8 players do not perform every day. It is two, three players who get the job done."
The side takes on New Zealand in Pallekele on Tuesday and a win would all but ensure a quarter-final spot. The teams recently played a six-match ODI series in New Zealand, which Pakistan won 3-2 (one game was washed out) but conditions here will be starkly different to those in New Zealand in January. For one, the venue is at considerable altitude. "This place is 2000 ft above the sea level and altitude affects the breathing so we're working hard on that," Alam said.
"It's a tough game against New Zealand. We won the series against them but here the conditions are different. We will try to keep our 100 per cent record intact."
As has been the case through the tournament, Pakistan underwent another focused practice session. On Monday, Alam said, the team will do batting and fielding practice only in order to give some players enough recovery time. Abdur Rehman, who missed the game against Canada with a leg injury, did train with the side and will bowl on Monday, though Alam said, "It's too early to say with which combination we will go into the game against New Zealand."

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