The setting cannot be more reminiscent of the 2007 Cricket World Cup for Pakistan, with the team facing a must-win match against Ireland to qualify from the group stages with elimination from the tournament a real possibility.
Eight years ago, the two teams clashed on March 17 with a Super Eight berth at stake. The date was already notable for the Irish, being St. Patrick’s day and the 2007 celebrations will be forever remembered by the country for their cricketing exploits.
One would bow out of the competition, the other sail into the knockout stage. Ireland were the victors back then, shocking the cricketing world.
For Pakistan it is now a matter of pride and revenge while Ireland has already done themselves proud with some scintillating performances.
Sunday’s match promises an intense battle as the two teams in green lay it all on the line.
Former wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal – who top-scored with 27 for Pakistan in 2007 – has vowed that times have changed and it is time for revenge.
“These are totally different times right now and Pakistan will be eyeing to take the revenge of that 2007 horror,” Kamran told Sport360.
“Back then we just couldn’t get any momentum in our sail whereas right now the team’s confidence is sky high having beaten South Africa and winning three matches on the trot.
“The format in 2007 made things complicated as we’d already lost against West Indies and had no time to settle but this time Pakistan have bounced back after two losses.”
It was a disaster for Pakistan and India back in 2007, the two cricketing giants falling at the first hurdle, leading to question marks over the ICC’s format.
“The pitch had lot of grass on it and it wasn’t the true wicket you expect at a big event such as world cup. The overcast conditions and rain just helped the Irish as they opted to bowl first and we just couldn’t cope with movement of the ball,” Kamran recalled.
“When I came out to bat, there was unbelievable pressure and I tried to counter it by playing my shots. I got set and was looking to play a big knock but got out. Had I played a bigger knock, maybe just maybe we would have finished on winning side.”
— Andy Balbirnie (@balbo90) March 13, 2015
It was not only the casualty of Pakistan’s World Cup exit that was to live long in the memory of its players and the wider world. Coach Bob Woolmer died shortly after Pakistan’s campaign, leaving a dark cloud over the whole tournament.
“Woolmer’s death was not just the loss of Pakistan, it was the loss of the cricket fraternity. Woolmer was someone who was revolutionizing cricket with his new ideas and methods,” added Akmal.
“Had he been alive and associated with any side in the world, he would have taken them to top of the rankings for sure, he was so good. I’ve been in pressure situations all my life but that experience was one of the toughest as we went through lot of mental agony.”
Akmal has played 53 Tests, 154 ODIs and 54 T20Is in his career, scoring over 6,000 runs across all three formats.
Akmal warned other teams that if the Pakistani batsmen get going like their bowling unit has, Misbah-ul-Haq’s charges may take some beating.
“Our fast-bowling unit has clicked but our batting is still a worry. If our batting clicks as a unit as well, then Pakistan would become one of the favourites going into knock-out stage and will be unstoppable,” said the 33-year-old.
— PCB Official (@TheRealPCB) March 13, 2015
“The batsmen have a good opportunity to make most of Adelaide’s pitch because it’s a batting friendly strip and they should try to regain the confidence ahead of the crunch matches.”
One of Akmal’s teammates in 2007, Mohammad Sami, says that it was the toss which decided the result of the match two tournaments ago, but it will not be the same on Sunday.
Sami was the pick of the bowlers for Pakistan against Ireland in 2007, claiming three wickets and bowling over 150kph.
“The toss was vital for both sides as it was overcast and the pitch was really green. Ireland won the toss and their bowlers utilized the fresh conditions well as the ball was seaming around,” said Sami.
“However, that prodigious seam movement will not be around at Adelaide and the Irish seamers will struggle whereas Pakistan’s pace attack will enjoy bowling.”
Another to taste defeat against the Irish was the now-banned spinner Danish Kaneria. Kaneira, currently serving a life-ban from the sport for match fixing, was dropped on the day of the game after the team found the pitch to be better suited to seam.
Heard a great stat yesterday – Ireland got US$50,000 for participating at the 2007 CWC. Pakistan, who Ire beat, got US$11m. Clearly unfair.
— Sachin Nakrani (@SachinNakrani) March 5, 2015
“Just a day before the match, I was told by the management that I was playing against Ireland as they do not tackle spin well. But when we went out in the morning for warm-up session, Inzamam went to check the pitch and then had to make a late adjustment by naming Azhar Mahmood instead as it was fast-bowlers paradise,” Kaneria recalled.
“We went on to lose the match and were out of the tournament. The team couldn’t give a perfect sendoff to Inzamam who was retiring after the tournament while a father figure left us when Woolmer died. He had a special bond with all the players and his death really broke us into pieces.”
Kaneria further revealed that the whole team was traumatized with the death and the investigation which followed as players were also questioned. In his view, it was something that had never happened before to an international cricket side who were being questioned on the death of their own coach.
“Woolmer’s association cannot be described in words and only those who have worked with him can tell you what a gem of a person he was. He is no more with us but I pray that Pakistan win the match and dedicate it to the great man who wanted to put Pakistan at the top of the international rankings,” he added.
“Woolmer did all the hard work to prepare us for a fantastic World Cup but the nature had some other ideas.”
Asked how he would compare the 2007 and 2015 Ireland teams, Kaneria replied that bowling has always been their weak link and that it was just a bit more organized previously.
He also warned the current side not to take things for granted against Ireland – a mistake which Inzamam’s team made before the match had begun.
“We were maybe over-confident that we would just thrash Ireland and took it lightly. I hope that Misbah-ul-Haq’s men will not repeat the same error and will remain focused on the task ahead. Ireland still have good batsmen in Niall [O’Brien], Kevin [O’Brien], [Paul] Stirling, Ed Joyce, [Gary] Wilson and [William] Porterfield.”
The United Arab Emirates are hoping to end their dream journey in the 2015 World Cup on a high by registering a shock win over the West Indies.
The two teams play their last Pool B match in Napier tomorrow, and while the UAE have nothing to lose and everything to gain, West Indies find themselves in a must-win position if they want to keep alive their chances of making it to the quarter-finals.
As things stand, West Indies have two wins in five matches, while both Pakistan and Ireland have three wins each and are playing the last Pool B match against each other.
The Caribbeans’ can qualify if they win by a big margin to ensure their net run rate is better than the other two contenders Pakistan and Ireland, who play the last Pool B match tomorrow.
West Indies’ current NRR (-0.511) is better than Ireland (-1.014) and lower than Pakistan (-0.194). UAE lost to South Africa in Wellington on Thursday, but the fight shown by them in keeping the Proteas batsmen in check, and then facing up to some hostile bowling, has lifted their spirits.
Looking ahead to the Napier match, where UAE are playing for the second time in two weeks having taken on Pakistan earlier in the tournament, captain Mohammad Tauqir said: “I don’t see West Indies as strong as India or South Africa and we would like to put up a better show against them.
“Of course, we know the ground but it’s a day game unlike the day-nighter against Pakistan. So, I don’t know what is the weather condition or how the pitch will play during the day. But yes, we have a little bit of knowledge of the ground and the conditions, so that’s going to be good for us.”
Team coach Aaqib Javed added: “I think we have done better and better as we have progressed in the tournament. It’s just that we are meeting some of the strongest teams now.
“But I said this before the tournament, and I still stand by it – I don’t want any of my batsmen to be afraid of the bowling, whether they are facing Mitchell Johnson or Dale Steyn.
“I am very proud of the way our boys faced up to the South African bowling yesterday. They were aiming short-pitched deliveries at the body, and yet, nine of our players faced them bravely and kept fighting until the 48th over.
“This match, really, was their biggest test, and I think they have come out of it with flying colours.”
The bad news for UAE during the game was the injury to medium-pacer Fahad Al Hashmi. The Emirati policeman fell down heavily and twisted his knee while trying to stop a shot of his own bowling.
An MRI scan has revealed a full tear in the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) of the right knee, and he has been sent back to the UAE yesterday for recuperation.
As for the West Indies, coach Stuart Williams was hoping for a consistent performance in their crucial encounter. The Caribbeans have been extremely error-prone and have mixed some good performances with some hopeless ones.
Williams said: “For us, it is about consistency. It is just for us to get it right. Once they get it right, we are quite comfortable.”
On the eve of playing his last match for Zimbabwe, wicketkeeper-batsman Brendan Taylor admits he made the difficult decision to say goodbye to international cricket with the long-term stability of his family in mind.
Taylor retires from Zimbabwe Cricket after the final Pool B match in Auckland today, and embarks on a new journey after going Kolpak and signing a three-year deal with English county Nottinghamshire.
The deal means he will be ineligible to play for Zimbabwe during that time, and he can qualify to play for England at the end of that period. Taylor, however, has kept open the option to come back and play for Zimbabwe after he finishes the contract.
Taylor, who is Zimbabwe’s top-scorer in the World Cup so far, said it was the toughest decision of his career.
“I’m very proud to be a Zimbabwean and I’m very proud to represent my country on a great stage tomorrow to finish up and hopefully end on a high note,” said the 29-year-old. “It’s been one of the biggest decisions I’ve had to make; in fact the biggest decision.
“Yes, international cricket has always been the pinnacle for me, but it’s something that I discussed with my family and my wife, and after two, three months of doing that, I decided to go and play in England.
“All players tend to try and maximise a little bit, and when you’ve got kids at home, you want to try and make sure they’ve got the best sort of upbringing that you can give them. That favoured the decision. It’s a three-year decision.
“I am very, very sad to leave Zimbabwe cricket. I’ve had some fond memories and I have some great friends here but life goes on and you have to try and make the best decisions for your family.”
Looking back at his 11-year career with Zimbabwe, during which Taylor played 23 Tests and 166 ODIs and scored 11 international centuries, he said: “It’s been fairly enjoyable the 11 years that I’ve been extremely grateful for.
“Every player’s dream is to represent their country, and I have been lucky enough to do that.
“We have had our challenges as young players coming into the side. We have had some tough losses, but we have slowly evolved and managed to sneak a few great wins for us. It’s been thoroughly enjoyable.”