After a month long of cricket action – mostly drab to be honest – the business end of the ICC 2011 Cricket World Cup has finally arrived. It all begins at Dhaka, Bangladesh with the clash between two teams who, on their day, can upset the best and, on an off day, can be embarrassed by the worst. Pakistan and West Indies it will be then to kick off the quarter-finals stage. This is as unpredictable as it gets and all previews and pre-match equations can be thrown out of the window in a matter of hours. Still here’s presently an attempted SWOT analysis of the two teams.
Strengths: One of Pakistan’s greatest strength in this tournament, something which they have been traditionally blessed with, has been their bowling. This was most evident is their historic win against the Aussies in their final league game. They have quality bowlers in both the pace and spin department. Umar Gul has been the pick of their bowlers and will be expected to lead the attack in the quarter-final as well. His nagging line and length and accurate yorkers have proved too good to handle for most opposition batsmen. Gul’s form clearly gives Pakistan an edge in the fast bowling department. While Gul has been exceptional, he has found good support in the form of Wahab Riaz in the last couple of games. Moreover, Shahid Afridi’s match-winning efforts with the ball in this tournament has made him the leading wicket-taker in the tournament so far. Nothing more needs to be said then.
Weaknesses: The obvious weakness is this Pakistan team is the same that has plagued them for ages. They are prone to crumble when put under extreme pressure and horribly at that, as seen in the game against New Zealand, where they looked all at sea when put under the hammer. If West Indies manage to put together a phase during which they hold the upper hand for a longer period of time, it would be intriguing to view how Pakistan respond. One thing is for sure, they will either come out all guns blazing or go down without a fight.
Opposition: Like Pakistan, West Indies too are unpredictable and, if they get up from the right side of the bed, Pakistan could be in trouble. Thus, the Asian giant needs to be wary of the Caribbean thunder.
Threats: The perceptible divisions in the Pakistani camp has never affected the on-field performance of the team per se. Even so, it remains a threat nonetheless. All the controversy surrounding Shoaib Akhtar and his retirement continues to make news. Questions regarding whether he will play another further part in the tournament remain. From the Pakistan team’s point of view, it would be a good thing if the management clears the air once and for all on the issue so that the players as well as the media can focus on the game. Akhtar apart, wicket-keeper Kamran Akmal, who incidentally also had a big role to play in the entire Akhtar fiasco, is also a definite threat, more than a weakness in the side. If Akmal self-destructs behind the wickets, another ‘Taylor-made’ disaster could be in the making. The good part from Akmal’s point of view is that he has got the backing of his skipper Afridi, but for how long is the question that remains to be answered. The quarter-final will possibly take us closer to the solution in store.
Strengths: When in form, batting is definitely their strength. Left-handed opener Devon Smith has clearly been the star of the tournament with the bat for the Caribbeans. His application at the crease has impressed all. And with the explosive Chris Gayle also most likely to be fit for the quarters, West Indies will have a formidable opening pair. If Gayle can fire and Smith can anchor one end, they would form a perfect opening partnership. Here again, the ‘if’ needs to be answered. There are a couple of bright spots in the bowling department too. Kemar Roach has been on target and among the wickets as well. Like Gayle, he too is most likely to feature in the quarters against Pakistan. For sure, the Windies can’t drop Ravi Rampaul following his stirring performance against India in a losing cause. Roach and Rampaul, if they get it right, can prove to be quite a handful for the Pakistani batsmen, who have displayed a tendency to collapse under the slightest of pressure. Last but not the least, Devendra Bishoo’s leg spinners have also made significant impact as has the all-round effort of Andre Russell.
Weaknesses: Unfortunately for the West Indies, their weak points outnumber their strengths. Two of their most experienced batsmen – the lynchpins of the side over the last decade – have been going through a mighty struggle. Ramnaresh Sarwan looked helpless against both England and India as the Windies faltered while chasing gettable targets. The fluency which earmarked Sarwan as a natural talent has been visibly missing and his dogged efforts have earned his sympathy more than praise. Sarwan has at least managed to hold on to his place in the eleven. But, that is not the case with Shivnarine Chanderpaul. There was a time when a Windies batting line up minus the left-hander was unimaginable. Not anymore. Chanderpual has been struggling for a while now, and the Windies camp has been forced to drop him for the last few games and bring in fresh blood. Whether Chanderpaul gets one final shot at regaining lost glory remains to be seen.
There are issues with the bowling too. The decision to open the bowling with the left-arm spin of Sulieman Benn hasn’t quite worked against the bigger teams and has to be relooked at. The exceptionally talented Kieron Pollard continues to fall short of expectations against the Test nations. He needs to fire against Pakistan to change that perception. But, most important of all, the captain of the ship himself must deliver. There have been question marks over Darren Sammy’s position in the playing eleven itself. And being so, where will Windies look to inspiration? It’s time to deliver the goods, skipper.
Opposition: Pakistan will be buoyed by the fact that they will be playing in Dhaka, where the wicket should favour them. Being so, they already hold a distinct advantage even before the game has begun. The Pakistani spinners will play a big role in the match and how the Windies handle them could be a major deciding factor.
Threats: Like Pakistan, even West Indies face a major threat due to their own ability to self-destruct. Another England or India-like collapse and they could soon be packing their bags for home.
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