Unpredictable Pakistan aiming for a World Cup high

Not having played any international cricket at home since 2009 terrorist attack on Lankan players, the constant chopping and changing the squad has also affected the team's performance.

If that wasn't enough, to add to this conundrum, has been the spot-fixing scandal that has resulted in bans being handed out to Salman Butt, Mohammed Asif and Mohammed Aamer.

The team, led by mercurial all-rounder Shahid Afridi, who was named captain after a strange delaying tactics employed by the PCB, will surely miss the cutting edge that Aamer and Asif would have provided with their lethal combination of pace from one end and swing from the other. But Pakistan has always produced talented cricketers who can be able replacement for their experienced senior cricketers.

"Both (Asif and Amer) are talented and top class and wicket-taking bowlers. Their absence will definitely make a difference," former Pakistan captain and legendary left-arm pacer Wasim Akram told mediapersons recently.

"Umar Gul is bowling well, Shoaib Akhtar is back and (Wahab) Riaz is also doing well. Pakistan's back-up is excellent," he added.

Despite all these setbacks, some self-inflicted and others forced, the team has managed to get the number three seeding in the tournament - a tribute to its inherent talent - and is bunched in Group A along with title holders Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, Canada and Kenya.

"Pakistan can be a dangerous team. No one can altogether write off Pakistan's chances in the Cricket World Cup. They have the capability to do well," according to Akram.

"Pakistan have made it a habit of playing normal cricket and playing well under pressure, but relaxing when not under pressure," was Akram's observation.

Pakistan are scheduled to play all their preliminary matches in Sri Lanka and open their campaign against Kenya on February 23 at Hambantota to regain the crown they won for the first and only time under the inspirational leadership of Imran Khan in 1992.

The team's batting is a bit suspect, with Younis Khan's vast experience and his ability to play a long innings being its backbone.

There are exciting batsmen of the likes of Misbah-ul-Haq, the Akmal brothers Kamran and Umar and the all-round abilities of captain Afridi, Abdul Razzaq and Sohail Tanvir to force their rivals to be wary always.

The pace bowling looks pretty impressive even without Asif and Aamer. The presence of the temperamental Shoaib Akhtar can be either a boon or a bane while Tanvir, Umar Gul, Razzaq and Wahab Riaz are wicket-taking bowlers.

In Saeed Ajmal, the team has a top class off-spin bowler who made his international debut only after turning 30 and played a major part with leg spinner Afridi in the middle overs when Pakistan won the World T20 Championship in 2009.

In short, Pakistan possess a very good and varied bowling attack in conditions that will suit them.

In fielding and running between the wickets, Afridi and his men are not world beaters which can be a handicap in tight finishes.

Pakistan's World Cup 15: Shahid Afridi (captain), Misbah-ul-Haq, Mohammad Hafeez, Kamran Akmal (wk), Younis Khan, Asad Shafiq, Umar Akmal, Abdul Razzaq, Abdur Rehman, Saeed Ajmal, Shoaib Akhtar, Umar Gul, Wahab Riaz, Sohail Tanvir, Ahmed Shehzad.

Pakistan's preliminary Group A fixtures: v Kenya (Feb 23, Hambantota); v Sri Lanka (Feb 26, Colombo); v Canada (Mar 3, Colombo); v New Zealand (Mar 8, Kandy); v Zimbabwe (Mar 14, Kandy); v Australia (Mar 19, Colombo).

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