Pace spearhead Zaheer Khan quickly needs to regroup his resources and improve his fitness level if India are to fancy their chances of winning the World Cup Twenty20 again, feels former Pakistan captain Wasim Akram.
“Zaheer’s fitness looked suspect. He did not look sharp enough and probably his energy levels were not up to the mark. I know Sri Lankan conditions are extremely demanding, but if Zaheer has to lead India’s attack, he has to be at the peak of his fitness. Dhoni’s selection worries, I would imagine, will be around his senior players like Zaheer, Harbhajan and Irfan Pathan,” Akram said.
Akram said that the loss against Pakistan in the warm-up game has left skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni with the dilemma of whether to go in with five specialist bowlers or opt for the additional batsman, considering that bowling in the death overs has been a worry.
“The match against Pakistan will force MS Dhoni to mull over his first XI. While it’s always a horses-for-courses policy, deciding the playing XI will always be a tough call.
“For a 20-20 game, India have several ‘all-rounders’ and that will enable Dhoni pick four specialist bowlers and seven batsmen. The fact that Sehwag, Raina, Yuvraj and Kohli are decent bowlers is a great bonus for Team India,” he said.
Akram expressed his happiness over the inclusion of Yuvraj Singh in the Indian team.
“It was great to see Yuvraj back in the field. I saw his quickfire 34 off 26 balls against the Kiwis in Chennai. Typically, Yuvraj connected a few lusty blows but his timing has to get sweeter. The fact he is back to international cricket is only due to the Almighty’s blessings and I am sure everyone’s going to watch him closely in Sri Lanka,” he said.
The pace legend picked India and Pakistan as favourites to lift the trophy on the slow familiar tracks of the island nation where they have played a lot of cricket.
“It’s too hazardous to pick favourites in a T20 competition. The complexion of matches can change like a chameleon. While India remain strong contenders because of their batting depth, Pakistan’s bowling strength makes them equally strong,” Akram said.
“After India and Pakistan, in my reckoning, two from among England, the West Indies and South Africa will complete the last four. Sri Lanka have little chance with a weak middle-order and over-dependence on Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara. No team has ever won the T20 World Cup as hosts. I think the trend will continue,” he added.
Akram felt that Pakistan’s run-chase and their ability to handle the pressure against a talented Indian side will give Mohammed Hafeez’s team a great deal of confidence going into the championship.
“No matter what the status of the game is, no Indian captain wants to lose a match against Pakistan. Every India versus Pakistan contest is emotionally supercharged and hence the high fives in the Pakistan dug-out on Monday were expected. It was good to see the players in great spirits and the younger ones exchanging pleasantries after the game.”
Akram said that Pakistan have the best attack in the world and singled out Saeed Ajmal and Shahid Afridi as the key men for the Men in Green.
“Saeed Ajmal will be the man to watch out and Shahid Afridi remains the quintessential partnership breaker with wickets at crucial junctures. If Afridi has to play in the Pakistan team, he can only do so as a bowler. His experience in tight situations can be effective and his flatter leg-spins are tough to hit.”