Pakistan start favourite while NZ in must-win situation
Mohali, Oct 24: A rejuvenated Pakistan will look to seal a semi-final berth from Group B and, in the process, mar Stephen Fleming's record 194th appearence as skipper when they take on New Zealand in their second league game of the ICC Champions Trophy here tomorrow.
Having emerged convincing winners over early favourites Sri Lanka in Jaipur, Younis Khan's side are a confident lot. Adding to the bounce in their stride is the knowledge that one more win will mean that their last group game here against South Africa in three days time will only determine where they play in the semi-finals.
For Stephen Fleming's squad, however, there is a lot more at stake. They may have beaten group favourites South Africa in their opening match at Mumbai, but the rout at Sri Lanka's hands four days later makes this a match they simply have to win. And being former champions in this event only adds to the baggage the Kiwis carry into the game.
No one gave Pakistan much of a chance going into their opener at Jaipur.
Stripped off the regular captain and snowed under by the doping controversy that eliminated their two main fast bowlers on match eve, it was expected that the Lions would roll them over. But Khan was at pains to point out on match even that reverses had rarely deterred the Pakistan squad.
Just how prophetic those words were was to be proved in short order. And on the far more sporting pitches the PCA Stadium here provides for, Pakistan will be more than a handful for a New Zealand side whose batting has not impressed in the least.
Adjusting to conditions in the sub-continent is often a game played in the mind. The Kiwis, however, seem well out it at the moment, going by their displays in Mumbai where they totalled 195 and 165, built largely around Fleming's contributions.
The Kiwi captain acknowledged as much on match-eve when he told reporters that the process of making the adjustments required was taking time. At the same time, Fleming pointed out, on the far pacier and even pitches here, he expected the batsmen to find their finally find their feet and help his quicks as well.
Had it not been for sterling bowling performances from seamers Kyle Mills and Jacob Oram and off-spinner Jeetan Patel in the first game, the Kiwis would have been hard-pressed to beat the Proteas. All the batting weaknesses evident in that game were cruelly exposed by the Lankans, with Muttiah Muralitaran running riot. Neither captain is willing to concede the edge, but Khan knows that his biggest task now will be to guard against complacency. The replacements for Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif -- seamer Yasir Arafat and left-arm spinner Abdul Rahman -- have joined the team but it is difficult to see Khan and coach Bob Woolmer disturbing a winning combination.
Other than the banned Inzamam-ul Haq, the batting is intact and only the skipper and Shahid Afridi missing out against the Lankans at Jaipur. The rest of the line-up all got runs with opener Imran Farhat and Mohammad Yousuf being particularly impressive. Still, it needed the patience of Shoaib Malik and the belligerence of man of the match Abdul Razzaq to close out the game.
The only area that will worry Khan is the off-day his frontline pace attack of Rana Navead and Rao Ifthikar had at Jaipur. That too was more than compensated by the slow ball combination of Malik, Mohammad Hafeez and Afridi, though how effective they will be on the quicker pitches here remains to be seen.
Though on paper Pakistan hold the edge here. However, the Kiwis too know that defeat will in all probability send them home, a fate Fleming was quite categorical to say he wanted to avoid.
Teams: Pakistan(from): Younis Khan (capt), Imran Farhat, Muhammad Hafeez, Mohammed Yusuf, Abdul Razzaq, Shahid Afridi, Kamran Akmal, Shoiab Malik, Rao Iftikhar, Umar Gul, Naved-Ul-Hassan, Faisal Iqbal, Yasser Arafat and Abdul Rehman.
New Zealand(from): Stephen Fleming(capt), Nathan Astle, Shane Bond, James Franklin, Peter Fulton, Mark Gillespie, Hamish Marshall, Brendon McCullum, Kyle Mills, Jacob Oram, Jeetan Patel, Scott Styris, Daniel Vettori, Lou Vincent Umpires: Mark Benson (England) Rudi Koertzen(S.Africa).
3rd Umpire:Billy Bowden (NZ), 4th umpire: Steve Bucknor(West Indies).
Match Referee: Ranjan Mudugalle(Sri Lanka)