The last time the World Cup was held in Australia and New Zealand, the side under Imran Khan scripted an unbelievable come-from-behind victory to lift the ICC Cricket World Cup 1992.
This time, the team has travelled ‘Down Under’ with another veteran leader in Misbah-ul-Haq, who also announced that he will retire from One-Day Internationals after the tournament. Coincidentally Misbah also hails from Mianwali, Khan’s hometown and is the same age as Imran Khan was in 1992, something most Pakistani fans will be hoping is a good omen.
However, the Pakistan squad has had some serious issues pre-and-post selection. The absence of ace spinner Saeed Ajmal due to illegal bowling action, withdrawals of pacer Junaid Khan and all-rounder Mohammad Hafeez due to injury, and the unavailability of experienced Umer Gul have greatly affected the synergy of the team.
But Pakistan’s unpredictability remains its biggest strength. Because we have traditionally been capable of summoning performances no team can plan for, opponents always start against the side on uncertain footing.
Pakistan’s bowling will be led by Mohammad Irfan and Wahab Riaz. Irfan’s towering seven-foot frame is ideally suited to exploiting the conditions on offer, while Riaz has proved he’s a big-match player (with returns of 5 for 46 in the semi-final against India in 2011).
In a career spanning over 18 years Shahid Khan Afridi has time and again, shown that he possesses the ability to run away with a match (either through his veracious batting or bowling). Affectionately known as ‘Boom Boom’ for his BOOM BOOM batting style, the 34-year-old talisman – who has announced this will be his last ODI outing – will be crucial to Team Pakistan’s dominance in the series.
In the past five World Cup meetings, including the last during the 2011 World Cup semi-final in Mohali, Pakistan have never been able to beat India. But Sunday’s match could very well decide the momentum of the group at the quadrennial event. As a team, Pakistan has had the upper hand against India, having won 72 of the 126 ODIs so far, but on the other hand, India has a perfect 5-0 record against its arch rival and that too, on the biggest stage of all!
Misbah’s men will try to emulate similar performances like the ‘cornered tigers’ of Imran Khan 23-years-ago which was the dawn of colored clothing, day-and-night matches, and video referrals to the third umpire which changed cricket forever.