Ever since the final of the last World Cup, every encounter between Australia and Pakistan is seen as an opportunity for us to avenge that loss at Lord’s. That is yet to happen, but what better place for badla than in our next World Cup encounter.
Many players in this Pakistan team, including me, were around last time as well, and the disappointment of that loss still hurts us. The players may be the same, but I think we have improved individually, because most of us now have experience to go with our talent. Guys who were inexperienced then — like Shoaib, Youhana, Afridi and Saqlain — are now well-accustomed to handling pressure, and this might be a crucial factor. All we need now is to jell together as a side, and seeing us practise and train, I think it is happening at the right time.
There is a feeling that playing the defending champions is not the easiest way to begin a World Cup campaign, but I disagree. The pressure of beginning their title defence will lead to some nerves in the Australian camp as they come into the first game, and this is perhaps our chance to make the most of it. Moreover, there are no expectations from us, and everybody thinks Australia will win, so the pressure is firmly on their team. If this Pakistan team does win, it will be a huge boost to our confidence, and we will be pretty dangerous after that.
There is no arguing that over the last four years, the Australians have cemented their place as the top side in both Tests and one-dayers. Their style of cricket is exciting, and their relentless attack makes it very difficult for the opposition to make up for lost time once they are in the driver’s seat.
Their batting is extremely strong with Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist forming a very destructive opening pair, and their bowling has a great deal of variety.
However, I cannot help but feel that they will miss Steve Waugh during their title defence. He was the one who bailed them out whenever they were under pressure, last time. In 2003, while I see plenty of exciting players in their side, I also see the lack of a crisis man. It will, therefore, be interesting to see how the Australians react to such crises this time around.
The other factor in our favour is that Michael Bevan, who finishes off so many games for the Australians will also be unavailable for tomorrow’s match.
Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie, who form the core of the bowling department, are also short on big match practice, so our batsmen have an opportunity to play them before they get into their stride.
The Pakistan team did not have a very good tour of South Africa in December-January, but I still think the match practice, we had gained at that time, will hold us in good stead this time.
We also came here pretty early, so we are well acclimatised. We are also fresh from a month-long break, and this could be important, because Australia were involved in a tough tri-series less than three weeks ago.
I know that in the hurly-burly of modern-day cricket, players are supposed to be fresh and fit at all times, but that is often not possible. In fact, match fitness could be something the Australians might find tough to achieve in this tournament.