June 17, 2010

As former players, we have more often than not criticised Pakistan cricket. But come the Asia Cup and after a long time, I can see a few positives. Skipper Shahid Afridi’s 76-ball 109 run against Sri Lanka in the Cup opener probably hints at good things to come.

After a long time, I saw Afridi playing a responsible innings. Even if it came in a losing cause, the knock was full of character. This innings would have put a lot confidence in Afridi as a leader. It is important for Pakistan to have a man who can lead from the front.

Making an international return after a year, Shoaib Akhtar also made an impressive comeback. There were many questions over his return. Many felt that the controversial speedster won’t mend his undisciplined ways, but I am happy that Akhtar has proved the critics wrong.

Akhtar bowled intelligently to complete his quota of 10 overs, bagging three wickets. The 35-year-old pacer not only justified the trust laid on him by the captain but also won the hearts of many of his fans. But as (coach) Waqar (Younis) pointed out, this is not the best we have seen of him. Akhtar has to be fit and consistent and that will help the team
With the positives, came a few lapses as well. The team looked out of practice and that reflected in the running between the wickets. Afridi was involved in two run outs with the Akmal brothers. This surely was a factor between winning and losing. But, I am sure the running between wickets will surely improve once the team plays a few matches.

Talking about the two youngsters who made their debut on Tuesday, I must admit that opener Shahzaib Hasan did not impress me. I saw him in the 2009 T20 World Cup and felt the 20-year-old needed a little more time. But I had a chat with Afridi before the team left for Lanka and he told me that he had a lot of faith in Shahzaib. So I guess it’s the captains’ confidence on a particular player that should matter.

If Pakistan lost a close match against the Lankans, it was because of Lasith Malinga. The guy is exceptional and I have been saying that for the last two years that he is the best bowler in all forms of the game. Malinga is quick, swings the ball and has an action which is extremely difficult to pick. The 26-year-old is at times unplayable and will only get better.
Another player who made the difference was Angelo Mathews. His unbeaten 55 runs were responsible for Lanka managing a respectable 242 for 9 in 50 overs. I have worked with Mathews during my stint with IPL side Kolkata Knight Riders. He needs to improve on the bowling front but is certainly a bright prospect for the island nation. The 23-year-old player has age on his side and will certainly improve.

Asia Cup is not a very long tournament and hence it becomes very important for teams to get their act together from the start. India will certainly miss their match-winner, Yuvraj Singh, but it is always wise to rest an unfit player. With the big guns back, India have enough firepower and Bangladesh got a taste of this. I am looking forward to Saturday’s Indo-Pak clash. May the better team win!

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