Pakistan mull including Ajmal in West Indies match
Pakistan's resolve to not change a winning XI will undergo a stiff test ahead of the quarter-final against West Indies in Dhaka on Wednesday.
Pakistan's resolve to not change a winning XI will undergo a stiff test ahead of the quarter-final against West Indies in Dhaka on Wednesday. Pakistan, who won five out of six games to top Group A, were fairly settled - by their standards - through that run. Only after five failures did they tweak the opening combination and injuries apart, Shoaib Akhtar represents the only other unforced change in personnel.
But with the possibility of as many as four left-handers in the West Indies top five - if Shivnarine Chanderpaul returns to shore up a middle order prone to collapse - Pakistan will consider the option of using Saeed Ajmal to off-set that.
The decision will not be an easy one. If Ajmal does play, he is likely to do so in place of Abdur Rehman. The left-arm spinner has played a quiet but significant role in Pakistan's campaign so far, opening the bowling in two of their last three games; though he has only three wickets in five games, he has been crucial in stifling opposition run-rates. Additionally, Pakistan feel safer in the knowledge that Rehman is useful - no more - with the bat and a capable, energetic fielder.
Afridi, as he has done all along, spoke of the need to not change the XI that beat Australia. "I'm very happy with my winning combination at this stage," he said. "You can't make changes if you can help it for a game like this. We have an offspinner in Mohammad Hafeez so let's see. We'll decide this evening once we've seen the conditions and the pitch."
Privately, however, the team management has acknowledged that Ajmal is under consideration, though the decision will be taken after a team meeting on Tuesday evening. Ajmal has been a peripheral figure so far in Pakistan's campaign, playing only in the game against Canada in which Rehman sat out with a leg injury. He bowled well enough in the game, picking up a wicket, though not perhaps well enough to change a situation which has seen him gradually lose the top spinner's slot over the last six months or so.
Several sides have used off-spin to open against the West Indies top order through the tournament and with success. Chris Gayle, who is likely to be back tomorrow, fell to Johan Botha in the first over of the game against the West Indies. England used Graeme Swann in the game at Chennai and though he didn't strike early, the success he eventually had, along with James Tredwell, in the game makes the case for Ajmal stronger. R Ashwin opened for India in the last game the West Indies played and he struck early as well.
Whatever the line-up ultimately - and that would be the only likely change - Pakistan will go into the game with some confidence after the streak-breaking win against Australia in Colombo. The team arrived in Dhaka early Monday evening and had their first and only practice session at the Shere Bangla Stadium before the game, on Tuesday.
"To win a game against a side like Australia before the quarter-final is a big achievement," Afridi said. "The dressing-room atmosphere is very positive and very good. It was a great win. We really worked hard before this tournament and I don't think in my 14-year career we've ever worked as hard. Definitely, the expectation is greater now. We are feeling more confident."
Even though the West Indies lost their last two group games and haven't beaten a top side in an ODI since June 2009, Afridi was aware of the threat some of the relatively newer faces may pose. "These young guys are doing a great job. They have performed well, their bowling is good and that is why they are in the quarter-final. They have a very good unit, so we're not taking any team lightly especially at this stage."
A win on Wednesday would lead to a first World Cup semi-final since 1999, but the fifth straight ICC event - including the World Twenty20 - in which they've made the last four. "Before this World Cup I said I see my team in the semi-final and I want to see them there. My team is capable of doing that."