When Pakistan takes on India on February 15 in its opening encounter of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, it will be with the knowledge that 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 Cricket World Cup 1992.
This time, the team has travelled Down Under with another veteran leader in Misbah-ul-Haq, who has also announced that he will retire from One-Day Internationals after the tournament. He is the same age as Imran Khan was in 1992 and Pakistan fans will be hoping that is an omen.
Pakistan has played in all ten World Cups so far, registering 36 wins from 64 matches for a winning percentage of 56.25 in cricket’s flagship event.
Pakistan’s biggest win in terms of runs came in World Cup came in 2011 in Hambantota, when it defeated Kenya by 205 runs. In the same edition, Pakistan also registered its biggest win by wickets, outplaying the West Indies in the quarter-final by ten wickets in Mirpur. Pakistan lost to arch-rivals India in a high-voltage semi-final encounter in Mohali by 29 runs.
Its best result, of course, was the triumph in 1992, but Pakistan has done well otherwise too, reaching the final in 1999, and the semi-finals in three successive world cups from 1979, 1983 and 1987, while making the quarter-final in 1996. Only in 1975, 2003 and 2007, did Pakistan not progress beyond the group stages.
Pakistan is grouped in Pool B along with India, the defending champion, South Africa, West Indies, Zimbabwe, Ireland and United Arab Emirates.
Pakistan’s bowling has been its traditional strength, and even when its frontline bowlers have been unavailable through a variety of reasons, it has found able reserves, putting their hands up and embracing the big occasion.
The batting also wears a solid look this time. The dependable duo of Hafeez and Ahmed Shehzad can be steady or flamboyant at the top of the order, while the rock-steady calmness of Misbah and Younis will steer the team in the middle overs. Afridi’s aggressive lower-order hitting provides the thrust at the end and he comes into the tournament in superb form with the bat and ball.
Pakistan did suffer a setback before the tournament with Junaid Khan, one of its frontline pacers, ruled out of the tournament, and the selectors have named the relatively untested Rahat Ali who has played just one ODI as a replacement.
Nevertheless, it is a given in the cricketing world that the Pakistan side can never be underestimated, and the players are capable of pulling rabbits from hats as routinely – and indeed with as much effect – as magicians.
Pakistan’s unpredictability remains its biggest strength, and because it has traditionally been capable of summoning performances that no team could plan for, opponents always start against the side on an uncertain footing.
The team has historically done its best when pushed to a corner, and recent ODI form notwithstanding, the hunger of some of the veterans who have come close to tasting World Cup glory but been denied, makes for a nice blend with the freshness and freedom of play that someone like an Umar Akmal or Sarfraz Ahmed brings.
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 in the past, with returns of 5 for 46 in the semi-final against India in 2011.
Pakistan lost the two-match ODI series in New Zealand 2-0 before the World Cup. The team played 18 ODI matches in 2014, and registered only six wins, including series losses by 2-3 and 0-3 margins against New Zealand and Australia in the United Arab Emirates.
However, Pakistan had bright moments too, including a good showing in the Asia Cup, where it reached the final.
Star player: Shahid Afridi
In Pakistan’s first ODI against New Zealand in the series that preceded the World Cup, Afridi blasted 67 off 29 balls, showing a clear liking for the kind of pitches that will be on offer in both New Zealand and Australia.
In a career spanning over 18 years, Afridi has time and again shown that he can run away with the match with both bat and ball. Known as ‘Boom Boom’ for his batting style, Afridi’s leg-spin has often done the trick for Pakistan too.
Since the start of 2014, Afridi has played 18 matches and shown form in both departments, scoring 432 runs and taking 18 wickets. For Pakistan to go deep into the tournament, their 34-year-old talisman – who has announced this will be his last ODI outing – will be crucial.
One to watch out for: Mohammad Irfan
It’s no secret that pitches in Australia and New Zealand offer plenty of bounce and movement for pace bowlers. Towering at a height of 2.16 metres, MohammadIrfan provides Pakistan the luxury of exploiting the conditions to the fullest. The 32-year-old can generate steep bounce from a good length, and has picked up 57 wicket from 40 ODIs so far at an average of 29.92.
Identified for his potential by Aaqib Javed, the former Pakistan seamer and current coach of the UAE side, Irfan made his ODI debut against England in 2010. His large frame has meant he has to take extra care of his body, and guard against injuries, but both Irfan and Pakistan have made sure the pacer is in fine fettle and waiting to be unleashed in the World Cup.
Misbah-ul-Haq – He has a master’s degree in business administration.
Mohammad Irfan – At 216 cms, he is the world’s tallest bowler.
Sarfraz Ahmed – He captained Pakistan to an ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup
Shahid Afridi – He has his own clothing line.
Younis Khan – He enjoys fishing when not playing cricket.
Sohaib Maqsood – He has a master’s degree in Sports Science.
Key Match: India v Pakistan, Adelaide Oval, February 15
The India-Pakistan clash has always been a fascinating one for the fans, players, administrators and everyone who follows the game. 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 rival on the biggest stage of all – in World Cup matches. India has won against Pakistan in 1992, 1996, 1999, 2003 and 2011.
The two side last met in 2014 in Asia Cup, where Afridi’s strokeplay took the match away from India as Pakistan registered a thrilling one-wicket win.
Squad: Misbah-ul-Haq (captain), Ahmed Shehzad, Nasir Jamshed, Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), Younis Khan, Haris Sohail, Umar Akmal, Sohaib Maqsood, Shahid Afridi, Yasir Shah, Mohammad Irfan, Ehsan Adil, Sohail Khan, Wahab Riaz.
Feb 15: v India, Adelaide
Feb 21: v West Indies, Christchurch
March 1: v Zimbabwe, Brisbane
March 4: v UAE, Napier
March 7: v South Africa, Auckland
March 15: v Ireland, Adelaide