Not that I’m superstitious…

The exciting 2011 World Cup continues today as Pakistan battles West Indies in the First-Quarter Final.  This will be a moment of redemption for Pakistan, which has not qualified for this stage of the game since 1999 after they beat Australia and dominated in league games.  Although Australia has remained unbeaten for the past 12 years, Pakistan gained victory over them once again.

Between Pakistan and West Indies, Pakistan has had the better tournament, beating Sri Lanka in addition to Australia, while the West Indies have yet to bring down a major power.  West Indies also seems to be struggling as they determine the best strategy and have not yet put together a meaningful run.  It would definitely be a mistake to underestimate West Indies however, as they are dangerous team with great players like Chris Gayle, Kemar Roach, and Andre Russell.

Pakistan entered the competition with low expectations but their performances have been anything but low.  Some consider a win today as a bonus – the icing on the cake.  They finished at the top of Group A, a stunning win over Australia that ended their 34-match unbeaten run.

Pakistan’s biggest threats – besides the talented West Indies players – will be their own unpredictable form and the prospect of chasing a decent total under lights.  Pakistan’s serious consideration for today’s game looks to be whether or not to introduce Saeed Ajmal.  Despite ongoing debates over selection, many would find it hard to imagine a change to the bowlers who dismissed Australia for 176 – unless Ajmal – who is a strong left-hand threat – replaces Abdul Rehman.  If Shiv Chanderpaul returns, it would mean four left-handers in West Indies’ top five, thus the consideration of bringing in Ajmal.

The batting line-up has a good balance of smart heads and young talent running into form.  Pakistani players like Asad Shafiq and Umar Akmal have had their confidence boosted by recent wins and should enter today’s match feeling strong.  Shahid Afridi was reported saying, “To win a game against a side like Australia before the quarter-final is a big achievement.”  He added, “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.”

The entire team is stacked well with every bowling option you can imagine.  They have a right- and left-arm fast bowler (both fast), a left-arm spinner, an offspinner, a legspinner, and right-arm medium-packer.  In addition, Pakistan’s team has new ball wicket-takers, old ball reverse-swingers, death-over specialists, choking spinners through the middle, attacking ones through the same.  As well stocked as they are with options, they’ve even opened with spin, something Pakistan hasn’t done in 13 years.

Each and every Pakistani player has done what’s been asked of them – and done it consistently.  Hafeez has bowled nearly six overs a game and picked up big wickets regularly.  Rehman has gone for only 4.42 an over, building a hurried and sustained pressure at one end.  Afridi has every faith his team can win the First Quarter Final.  He said, “”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.” Pakistani fans will no doubt be crossing their fingers today and hoping he’s right.