Smart money on Oz to join Pakistan as Champions Trophy qualifiers

2009-09-30 00:00

WITH Group B already decided, it is the turn of India and Australia to try and join Pakistan as the Champions Trophy qualifiers.

Australia play Pakistan in the early game at Centurion, while India meet West Indies at the Wanderers in the day-nighter.

The odds are heavily stacked against India, however, with them needing a massive win against the depleted West Indies to have any chance.

The main problem is not the winning, it is the doing so on a Wanderers pitch that played alarmingly during yesterday’s match between England and the Kiwis.

Javed Miandad, the former Pakistan great, has already slammed the pitches in use for this competition as ‘dangerous’ and yesterday’s variable bounce did little to quell those flames.

The weather in the Highveld has also taken a turn for the worse, with wintery conditions only adding to the batting challenge. While India try to make do at the seamer-friendly Wanderers, Australia and Pakistan will lock horns at the comparatively docile Centurion strip.

The world champions against the Twenty20 world champions is what some have billed it as, but in truth today’s clash is as close as it gets to a dead rubber.

Pakistan may give some of their benched players a game, with the returning Mohammad Asif an intriguing spectator thus far.

Banned after a drugs bust in Dubai, the paceman was a spearhead before his fall from grace. Indeed, many were comparing him to Pakistan’s incomparables: the likes of Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis.

On his day, Asif is economical with the ability to make the ball talk — and at good pace.

He has come back to a side that has moved on, however, with another Mohammad — Aamir — now creating headlines for the right reasons.

Indeed, the only delivery Asif has made in South Africa is the water during drink breaks.

“It is a great situation to be in,” Pakistan coach Intikhab Alam said ahead of the match. “If our players are performing, then they cannot be dropped. We have stars on the bench, but the team is doing well.”

Pakistan would love to get one over Ricky Ponting’s men, who have pipped them in 9 of their last 12 ODI clashes.

The defending champions have also found form, with a 6-1 drubbing of England preceding this tournament.

They have had casualties, though, with vice-captain Michael Clarke joining Brad Haddin on the sidelines this week.

“Michael had a lower back problem that started in England. Since travelling over, it has not improved and he will now be returning to Australia to continue treatment,” team physio Alex Kountouris explained yesterday.

Ponting’s middle order has done well enough without Clarke anyway, and the smart money will be on Australia building on their good form as the tournament gets to the business end.

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