ICL: Indian Cricket League

Pakistan grapple with World Cup F-factor


Fitness and fielding hold the key if Pakistan want to turn their huge potential into success in the World Cup in the Caribbean.

Pakistan have had a dismal build-up to their Cup campaign as question marks hang on the fitness of key bowlers Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammad Asif and Umar Gul, with fears that none could feature.

“The F-factor is crucial, the fitness of the players is concerning,” said coach Bob Woolmer. “Our attack could be excellent with Shoaib, Gul, Asif and Abdul Razzaq with Danish Kaneria, Shoaib Malik and Mohammed Hafeez as back-up bowlers,” he explained.

“There is no doubt in my mind if the first three were fit together then Pakistan would be a real force,” he warned.

Shoaib is battling with a knee injury while Asif may have a recurrence of an elbow problem. The pair are also required to clear pre-World Cup dope tests, the reports of which come on March 1. If they fail they face possible life bans.

Both were banned for doping in November after testing positive for the steroid nandrolone but they had their bans controversially lifted on appeal.

Gul, one of Pakistan’s best bowlers over the last 12 months, is also racing against time as his fractured ankle needs time to heal. Pakistan has until March 2 to replace any injured player.

Former paceman Sarfraz Nawaz said the chances of Shoaib and Asif featuring in the World Cup are slim. “I fear Shoaib and Asif will not play and if this happens Pakistan’s attack will be below mediocre. It would be a repeat of World Cup 2003,” said Nawaz, referring to Pakistan’s bitter first round exit four years ago.

Captain Inzamam-ul-Haq, who was one of the flops of the last World Cup with just 19 runs in six matches, said gruelling schedules had taken their toll on the players.

“Even a batsman like me finds it hard to keep the level of fitness, so it is worse for the fast bowlers. We need to have the best and fittest players for the World Cup,” said Inzamam, a member of Pakistan’s only side to win the World Cup in Australia in 1992.

Without Shoaib, Pakistan struggled on their pre-World Cup tour of South Africa where they lost the Tests 1-2 and one-day series 1-3.

They showed their usual flaws of either failing to retain their intensity or succumbing to self-destructive frenzies — both of which Woolmer hopes will not haunt them in the Caribbean.

“I believe what happened in South Africa will not hurt us. We have to make sure we are confident and well prepared, and it is up to the players to show mental strength,” said Woolmer, who took over as coach two years ago.

Woolmer managed to build the team yet the consistency factor is still missing.

In spite of luring former South African fielding maestro Jonty Rhodes for a two-week training stint last year, the Pakistanis still lack agility and accuracy in the field.

Wicket-keeper Kamran Akmal had a dismal period as he fumbled catches and erred in stumpings and needs confidence.

With continuous problems top of the order, Inzamam, Mohammad Yousuf and Younis Khan will be under constant pressure to score.

Dashing all-rounder Shahid Afridi and Razzaq can destroy any attack - on their day. However, Afridi will miss the first two matches in the Caribbean after being hit with a suspension following an altercation with a fan in South Africa.

Source:The News

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