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Monday, October 25, 2010

Pakistan still the spin kings

Abu Dhabi - There’s something almost breathtaking about Pakistan’s phlegmatic approach to their topsy-turvy cricketing existence. Essentially, it’s about handling life in the fast lane. Sometimes you get to where you want to go very quickly; sometimes you’re road kill.

Pakistan coach Waqar Younis was asked an earnest, thoughtful question at the press conference yesterday to announce the limited-overs series of two T20s and five ODIs between his team and South Africa. How difficult, asked a journalist, is it to plan ahead to the World Cup early next year when you have lost three of your best players?

He was referring, of course, to the fact that Pakistan’s two best pace bowlers, Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif, as well as their former captain, Salman Butt, have been suspended from all representative cricket following the spot-fixing scandal last winter in England.

“Honestly speaking, it’s hasn’t been easy,” replied Waqar with a shrug. “We’ve lost our three major players, not just from the squad, but from the starting XI. It’s never easy when you lose key players like that.”

In South African terms, it’s the equivalent of losing Graeme Smith, Dale Steyn and Morné Morkel to the nether regions of scandal and infamy, something South Africans would regard as a catastrophe.

Waqar, however, clearly took it in his stride. He described the period after the controversy broke as “chaos” – a condition of turbulence that the Pakistanis seem to be masters at absorbing, digesting and finally moving forward from – but he pointed out that despite that, Pakistan still managed to win two ODIs against England and were only deprived a series win in the final match.

The Pakistan manager, Intikhab Alam, tried to reassure reporters that the Pakistan Cricket Board had taken seriously the ICC’s demand that they establish proper structures within 30 days to combat corruption. “We’ve briefed the players again and again that we must all do our best to make sure that nothing goes wrong. I’m sure that, with the passage of time, things will get better, and we’re really looking forward to that.”

Waqar continued in a philosophically: “That’s the way it is. It’s just unfortunate that this whole thing happened and we don’t have them (the players) anymore. It’s going to be difficult (to recover), but it’s not impossible. We’re trying our best and making sure that whatever resources we’ve got, we will deliver the goods.”

Asked what the fate of the men was likely to be, Waqar replied that he hadn’t a clue. There will be a hearing at the weekend to ascertain whether Butt and Amir’s appeals against their suspensions are upheld or not (Asif had withdrawn his appeal). “If they come back,” said an ever-hopeful Waqar, “it will be a pleasure to have them back.”

In the meantime, he was happy to talk up the Pakistani squad he has, talking blithely about their blend of youth and the experience of players such as Younis Khan, Shahid Afridi, Abdul Razzak and Shoaib Akhtar.

Waqar said that, in spite of their difficulties, he felt that Pakistan were “on track” for the World Cup and that he expected his team to beat South Africa because they still have lots of talented players and they will be playing in conditions that suit them, with their spinners, Saeed Ajmal and Afridi in the limited-overs matches and Danish Kaneria in the Tests, presenting their opponents with formidable problems.

By comparison with the colourful Pakistani roadshow, the South African press conference was solid cricket fare that was reassuringly predictable and completely shorn of scandal.

The triumvirate of Graeme Smith (captain of the Test and ODI team), Johan Botha (captain of the T20 team) and coach Corrie van Zyl said very little that they hadn’t already said at the press conference just before they left South Africa.

Smith expected the conditions to be tough – the formidable heat of the UAE summer is still evident – and that the team’s main challenge would be to quickly adjust, mentally and physically, to their new environment.

The team then left for their one and only practice under lights at the Zayed Cricket Stadium, the scene of tonight’s first T20 (6pm, SA time) in which all the takings will be donated to the victims of the Pakistan floods.


South Africa: Johan Botha (capt), Loots Bosman, AB de Villiers (w/k), JP Duminy, Colin Ingram, David Miller, Albie Morkel, Morné Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Robin Peterson, Graeme Smith, Rusty Theron, Lonwabo Tsotsobe

Pakistan: Imran Farhat, Mohammad Hafeez, Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq, Umar Akmal, Asad Shafiq, Fawad Alam, Shahid Afridi (capt), Abdul Razzaq, Umar Gul, Saeed Ajmal, Abdur Rehman, Shoaib Akhtar, Tanveer Ahmed, Zulqarnain Haider (w/k), Shahzaib Hasan, Wahab Riaz

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