'We should make the semi-finals' - Afridi
February 18, 2011
For the first time in three World Cup campaigns, Pakistan enters with a fresh-looking squad. Disastrous first-round exits in 2003 and 2007 were compounded by the absence of new faces, with the team reliant instead on jaded stars. But for the 2011 World Cup, seven out of Pakistan's 15-man squad have not played more than 35 ODIs, and for eight, this will be a first World Cup. It is the kind of unknown they thrive on, the kind captain Shahid Afridi feels makes them "the most dangerous team at the World Cup."
Afridi's optimism is based on more than just the newness of his squad. Since the end of the Australia tour last year, Pakistan's ODI cricket has taken on the kind of swing that has marked their finest years: days of a complete, comprehensive ineptitude mixed casually with moments of such force they cannot be stopped.
They've lost more than they've won since the Australia tour - 10 losses, 8 wins - but they've pushed good teams to the very brink, usually in direst off-field circumstances. And the immediate run-in was much needed: a first ODI bilateral series win in over two years. "For some time now we've been trying to give the team an identity, a face on the field," Afridi told ESPNcricinfo before heading off to Dhaka.
"It's coming along. We've got some good young players in the set-up now, guys like Umar [Akmal], [Ahmed] Shehzad, Wahab [Riaz] mixed with some experienced guys. I see us as the most dangerous team at the World Cup." A number of the older heads have not played in World Cups before: Misbah-ul-Haq, the vice-captain, Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman.
The balance of a potential first XI, Afridi says, is right. Two of their openers have scored centuries in recent games and a third, dangerous option is back. The middle order has patience and power, old and young and the bowling spin and pace. "We've got options and I like that. We have batsmen like Younis [Khan] and Misbah who can play long innings, guys in the middle who are power-hitters. We have wicket-taking bowlers so I'm happy that we have a balanced side."