Pakistan see silver lining in banned Inzamam's absence
by AFP

Ground:Kennington Oval, Kennington
Scorecard:England v Pakistan
Event:Pakistan in British Isles 2006

DateLine: 2nd October 2006


Pakistan hope to turn the absence of inspirational captain Inzamam-ul-Haq to their advantage when the Champions Trophy one-day tournament starts in India this month.


Inzamam, banned for four matches by the International Cricket Council for forfeiting the infamous Oval Test against England, would have been Pakistan's mainstay in their bid to win the 10-nation event.


The 36-year-old, whose 367 appearances are equalled only by India's Sachin Tendulkar and is one of only four players to compile 10,000 one-day runs, is widely regarded as one of the game's foremost batsmen.


Younis Khan, who replaced Inzamam as captain for the tournament, believes the skipper's absence will galvanise his team, often seen as a brilliantly talented, but inconsistent and unpredictable outfit.


"It goes without saying that 'Inzi' will be missed, any team would miss a class player like him," said Younis. "But it has made us even more determined to do well.


"We want to win the Champions Trophy for him. We will be inspired knowing that he will be watching us from home and would want us to win."


Pakistan face a tough preliminary league against world number two South Africa, New Zealand and a qualifier - possibly Sri Lanka or the West Indies - to take one of the two semi-final spots from the group.


Pakistan, even with Inzamam around, have had a mixed season, losing more matches (seven) that winning (six) in their last 15 games with two no-results.


They allowed hosts England to fight back from a 0-2 deficit to level the one-day series in September and have lost five of their last six games to arch-rivals India this year.


But few would write off the Pakistanis in familiar Indian conditions where they won the bilateral one-day series 4-2 in 2005, winning four games in a row after losing the first two.


The reliable Younis and the superbly in-form Mohammad Yousuf will lend solidity to the top-order, but it is how the explosive Shahid Afridi and pace spearhead Shoaib Akhtar perform that could decide their fate.


Pakistan's recent indifferent form coincides with the failure of Afridi with both bat and ball and the irregular appearances by the injury-prone Akhtar.


Afridi, whose 37-ball century against Sri Lanka in 1996 is a world record and struck 102 off 45 balls against India last year, has managed just 99 runs in his last 15 one-dayers and taken 14 wickets.


Akhtar has played only four of Pakistan's last 16 matches due to injuries and coach Bob Woolmer will be hoping his main strike bowler goes through the Champions Trophy without breaking down.


The ever-improving Mohammad Asif, Rana Naved, Umar Gul and Rao Iftikhar, backed by all-rounder Abdul Razzaq, comprise a potent pace attack capable of troubling the best.


Afridi, Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez will provide the spin component, but it is the batting that must click on hard, barren wickets that promise a run feast through the month-long tournament.


"India usually has very good batting wickets where scores of 300 or above are the norm rather than the exception," said Woolmer.


"Fielding will obviously play a key role and this is one department we need to improve."


Pakistan have never won the Champions Trophy, the only tournament outside the World Cup that features all the Test-playing nations.


They made the semi-finals in 2000 and 2004 and lost in the earlier rounds in 1998 and 2002.


Past records, however, will not worry the Pakistanis. After all, Australia, the undisputed one-day champions of the world, have also never won the Champions Trophy.

(Article: Copyright © 2006 AFP)


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