Cricket: Pakistan rely on a generation game

World Cup countdown: Mixture of youth and experience bodes well for Wasim Akram's team: AT DERBY Pakistan 272-8 Derbyshire 65-3 Match abandoned
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The Independent Online
WASIM AKRAM is confident that his team have a real chance of winning the World Cup and his confidence infuses the whole team. Shoaib Ahktar is a young man, but feels sufficiently experienced to declare that this is the best team Pakistan have ever sent to England.

Without ever imposing themselves completely during their innings, or in the first overs of Derbyshire's innings, Pakistan have proved to be a team of many talents.

The value of this warm-up game was multiplied by the fact that they were faced by Michael Slater, one of the world's greatest talents who, unaccountably, is playing county cricket rather than in the World Cup.

Fortunately for Pakistan, Slater hooked unusually wildly for him and was caught off a steepler by Moin Khan behind the wicket for 34. As he left the field the rain came on and with Derbyshire at 65 for 3, the experienced hands in the pavilion made for the car park.

The young Australian clearly enjoyed the challenge of batting against the fastest and most penetrating opening attack in world cricket. After 12 overs he had frustrated Wasim and Shoaib, showing the full ferocity of his open-faced bat to punch the ball to the long-off boundary, reminding anyone who had seen it of his brilliant match-winning innings in Sydney only four months ago.

What we saw in Derby yesterday was a team neatly divided into two generations. Shoaib, the 23-year-old with the forbidding advance reputation of being the fastest man in the game, says: ''We are half legends and half youngsters. It's a healthy sign, sir. The young players are already winning matches.''

Shoaib had played a key part in the recent defeat of India at Calcutta, when he bowled Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid in successive deliveries, both beaten by pace. He had virtually won another in Durban a year earlier, taking five South African wickets for 43.

These youngster are not afraid of the legends either. (The only fear Shoaib confesses to is the high expectations for him.) As for the legends, they are not aloof from the kids. When Wasim tells you that Shoaib speaks with an Irish accent, it is a good-natured exaggeration designed to let you know that he experienced English wickets when he played for a season in Ireland. (He also toured England with Pakistan A a couple of seasons ago.)

In fact, Shoaib speaks English with a Pakistan accent, and he expresses himself in a way that would be quite foreign to a young English professional. He gives the credit for his talent and his selection to God. Style and tactics he attributes to good relations with his team-mates and a lot of hard work.

Shoaib is slight for a bowler who is so quick. To judge his height, I asked him to stand up, and suggested 5ft 11in. That sounded right to him. He showed me his hands, which are small and look soft and added: "not so good for gripping the ball". He is not the broad shouldered, brooding presence of Waqar Younis (rested yesterday), or the lithe, athletic figure of Wasim.

Pakistan's greatest strength is the depth and balance of the bowling. Three world-class bowlers and another youngster named Saqlain Mushtaq who is probably the best off-spinner in the game. To follow up that mighty salvo, there are talented all-rounders like Shahid Afridi, aged 20, Abdur Razzaq, only 19, and Azhar Mahmood, who is all of 24.

All three batted yesterday; all showed they are capable of scoring runs. Afridi batted rather wildly for 17, Razzaq powerfully for 34, but Pakistan had to rely on the legends to get them to a respectable 272 for 8 in 50 overs.

At the start of the innings Saeed Anwar batted with the wristy precision that has caused so much pain to England bowlers. When he plays the ball at waist height through the vacant area where second slip would have stood, you don't think he was lucky. On the contrary, you assume he meant it. The only way Derbyshire were able to get him out was by a direct hit on the stumps at the bowler's end by Trevor Smith running in from mid- on.

The solid centre of the innings came from a 36-year-old, Salim Malik, and the 30-year-old veteran Ijaz Ahmed. Both showed that age is no deterrent to running sharply between the wickets. Ijaz drove powerfully for six, Salim drove powerfully through the covers and by the time they were out in successive overs, they had put on 113 in 20 overs. Ijaz was top scorer, his 74 containing that one six and five fours. Derbyshire had done what was asked of them and provided decent opposition for a warm-up game. They used only five bowlers and none of them had been made fools of. Phillip DeFreitas and Matthew Cassar both took 2-43 off their 10 overs.

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