Dominic Cork: Forget the spot-fixing – a Pakistan victory today would be great for cricket

Outside Off Stump: I know Shahid Afridi. He is a good bloke to have in your side - he loves winning
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The Independent Online

Pakistan cricket has been through an awful lot in the last couple of years, from terrorism to spot-fixing. But they have never stopped producing exceptionally talented players, and today they could claim one of their biggest ever victories by beating India in a World Cup semi-final.

As a neutral all I want to see in Mohali is a cracking match – something along the lines of India's 338-runs-apiece tie with England would do nicely – and provided both teams bring their A game then we should be in for a real cliffhanger. But if Pakistan end up going through to Saturday's final then I will have no problem at all in applauding them.

The spot-fixing scandal of last year is still fresh in everyone's mind and it will hang over Pakistan cricket for a long time to come. Cricket is all about honesty so it was devastating for all who love the game when those allegations surfaced last summer.

But, having done some media work in Pakistan, I know just how much cricket means to the people of that country. They love their national team so it was so important that Pakistan's players made it back into the headlines for the right reasons. And they have been doing just that during this World Cup.

Pakistan have had more to deal with than fixing allegations, of course. I was in Lahore two years ago when the Sri Lanka team bus was attacked by terrorists, and that is another day I will never forget.

It was inevitable after what happened in March 2009 that Pakistan would lose their hosting rights for this World Cup. But despite having to give up the advantage of playing at home – and even though they lost two outstanding bowlers when Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir were suspended following the spot-fixing inquiry – they are enjoying a great World Cup.

What Pakistan are so good at doing is unearthing new talent. They seem able to produce a steady stream of international-class players, which is especially commendable at the moment. Saeed Ajmal, for example, bowled beautifully in the win over the West Indies.

Clearly, cricket has lost none of its popularity in Pakistan and youngsters still dream of making it. But whether you are just starting out or at the veteran stage, matches do not come any bigger than today. The atmosphere inside the ground will be electric and Pakistan have the huge challenge of trying to beat India in India.

Still, knowing their captain, Shahid Afridi, as I do – I played with him at Derbyshire a few years ago and he's coming to join us at Hampshire this season – he will not be in any way intimidated.

I know Afridi has had a chequered career but he is a good bloke to have in your changing room. He loves winning, and that comes across very strongly. And as for his talent, as a batsman and a bowler, well, that is obvious. When Afridi is on form, then he is a very hard man to stop. India will be very wary of him.

Whichever way you look at it, this is a mouth-watering prospect. And although the hosts are favourites, the result is too close to call: an Indian team that is full of superstars against a Pakistan side that can beat anyone on their day.

It may well come down to which team best handles all the pressure. But, whatever happens, I cannot see it being straightforward for either of them.

Strauss should stay despite thrashing

Names are being thrown about already for England's next one-day captain but, despite that quarter-final hammering by Sri Lanka, my thoughts are the same as they were a couple of weeks ago: I hope Andrew Strauss continues doing the job.

He is a good captain. The reason we are out of the World Cup is because we didn't have a good enough team, and we haven't had a good enough team since 1992. So, yes, we need to wipe the slate clean to a certain extent. But we also need to retain the sort of experience that Strauss can offer as captain.

I will give you a couple of candidates from my county who should feature in England's one-day team of the future: left-arm spinner Danny Briggs and batsman James Vince.

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