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    Default Pakistan in a bind over Kamran ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features

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    Like a particularly spicy nihari, heavy defeats often have a wonderful way of unclogging the head. The fog lifts, everything becomes clearer, easier to comprehend and suddenly there is a flow, a way forward. Pakistan's loss to New Zealand revealed the folly three wins had clouded, one a long-running personnel issue, the other a question of strategy.

    But in the here and now, for Pakistan, the result has only muddled matters further, because both flaws are linked, one stemming from the other. The more Pakistan persist with Kamran Akmal the more matches he will cost them, that is a simple truth and cannot be argued. But he is in the squad now and is the only - as much as this is an inaccurate statement - specialist wicketkeeper. They have to suffer him.

    The reason they must do so, it is becoming clear, is because they have even less faith in their batting than most people do in Kamran's wicketkeeping. Until the last two games, the batting had actually performed with some solidity over the last few months. The resulting logic from 184 all out against Canada and 120 for seven against New Zealand is not that the top order should simply begin scoring, or that if the top six or seven fail, No.8 will rarely salvage matters. It is that more batsmen are needed.

    There is no ostensible panic yet, but there is confusion and uncertainty, apparent at a dinner with Shahid Afridi on Wednesday evening. The captain had hinted immediately after the New Zealand game that Umar Akmal would be considered an option as a wicketkeeper. On Wednesday, Afridi appeared truly in a bind: he doesn't want to risk Kamran again but neither does he want to risk another batting flop, even if Kamran's batting contributions are not as substantial anymore as they are remembered.

    He was supportive, as captains must be. "Kamran's performance is in front of everyone, he is putting in the hard work in the training sessions and he has done a lot of work for this World Cup, but he has not lived up to that level," he said. "We suffered a lot after he could not perform."

    Then there was the glossing over, the retreat into lazy myths. "But I must say he has won lots of matches for Pakistan in the past, he is a very talented cricketer. We are at a stage where we should not panic, there are other players who are not performing it's not only Kami and we need to back them."

    The conclusion? We don't know. "We will see if he plays the next game or not that we will see later on, but from my side I think we should give Kamran confidence because he is a good player, a good cricketer and there are lots of expectations that he will do good."

    The failures of Mohammad Hafeez and Ahmed Shehzad twist the problem further. There is casual talk of dropping Shehzad, for example, and pushing Kamran to open. They could retain the openers and drop Kamran, using Umar behind the stumps. In both cases a spot opens up: bowler or batsman?

    That another bowler is unlikely still is the only thing there appears to be some firmness on, despite them so missing one against New Zealand. "I don't think we are playing with a bowler short," Afridi said, before, like the rest of the team management, simply pretending Abdul Razzaq's bowling is not a problem. "We mostly struggle in batting and when we play less then people say we are playing with a batsman short, I think the combination with which we are playing is the balanced one. If you see bowlers Razzaq and Shoaib Akhtar are bowling well with the new ball, then we have Umar Gul, we have every type of variety."

    For what it's worth, the younger Akmal, Umar, practiced with the gloves on Thursday in Kandy but so did Kamran. "We might change or even carry on with the same openers," Afridi said and he was even asked whether he could open himself. "If we make too many changes and start panicking it will be problem for us. Hafeez and Shehzad are not clicking, they need some runs. We are here with perfect openers and I don't think we can take that chance [of his opening]. Shehzad and Hafeez are there but we might open with Kamran Akmal too."

    Nothing is clear, everything is on the table. They may do nothing at all ahead of the Zimbabwe game on Monday and there is a general mood of support within the team for Kamran. With just one loss, who's to say, in the light of day, they would be wrong in doing so? And who's still to write off their chances?

    Afridi, who better captures the ways of Pakistan cricket and cricketers than many others, knows it. "If you look at Pakistan cricket over the last 50-60 years this is quite a normal performance of our team. But this is now done, it's enough and we have no chance to repeat such performances.

    Against good teams and in pressure matches my boys play very well, like the game against Sri Lanka. I'm still looking at my team in the semi-final."



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