Pakistan cricketers seek redemption

NORMAN DA COSTA, Special to the Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 3:36 PM ET

TORONTO - Pakistan is determined to put behind the embarrassment of the 2007 World Cup when it was sent packing in the first round following a three-wicket loss to minnows Ireland.

Led by their mercurial skipper Shahid Afridi, Pakistan opened its Cup campaign yesterday by whipping Kenya by 205 runs at Hambantota, Sri Lanka. A solid performance that should in some way help erase memories of that fiasco in the Caribbean.

If that first-round exit wasn’t ignominious enough, the team had to mourn the death of its English coach Bob Woolmer who passed away in his hotel room the following day.

The Jamaican police immediately treated the death as murder and the team was grounded and placed under investigation. That included hours of being grilled by detectives before being cleared to return home a few days later.

It was later concluded that Woolmer died of natural causes, but that did not stop the fans from heaping abuse on the players in the streets for that first-round loss.

Since then it has been far from a smooth ride for the Pakistanis.

In 2009 the International Cricket Council withdrew co-hosting rights from Pakistan and handed it to Bangladesh after a March terrorist attack on visiting Sri Lanka in Lahore. Seven of the touring players were injured and six policemen killed.

Six months earlier extremists linked to Pakistan attacked Mumbai and other parts of India, killing 164 people and leaving 308 wounded.

It appears this is the reason Indian authorities moved all of Pakistan’s first-round games to Sri Lanka. Also, three of Canada’s Pakistani-born players had to wait until the very last-minute before being cleared to travel to India.

On the strength of the one-sided victory over Kenya, Pakistan should make the quarter-finals and that will mean playing in India. Pakistan scored 317 for seven and then sent Kenya packing back to the pavilion for 112 in 33.1 overs.

The star of yesterday’s triumph was Afridi, one of four players from that debacle in the previous tournament.

The Kenyans had no answer to Afridi as he mesmerized the middle-order and tail with his leg spin to return the incredible figures of five wickets for 16 runs off eight overs.

Pakistan, batting first, started off slowly against the Kenyan pace attack of Thomas Odoyo and Elijah Otieno who showed admirable control to dispatch openers Ahmed Shehzad and Mohammad Hafeez with just 12 on the scoreboard.

But the Kenyan bowlers then lost their way and Odoyo, who was Kenya’s best bowler with three for 41, was responsible for 20 of the 37 wides out of a total of 46 extras, a record for one-day cricket.

The Akmal brothers, Kamran (55) and Umar (71), then steadied the ship with other superb half centuries from veteran Younis Khan (50) and Misbah-ul-Haq (65). Umar’s belligerent knock had a six and eight fours and came off 52 balls.

Collins Obuya led Kenya with a blistering 47 off 58 balls and his innings included three sixes. He was one of only four batsmen to reach double figures and this poor showing will once again ignite the debate whether the minnows should play in the World Cup. Only Netherlands of the associate countries has so far made a statement for the small fish.


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