LONDON // Younus Khan, Pakistan's captain, must be thinking the whole cricket world has it in for his side. He is back in siege mentality mode following the controversy over the fast-bowler Umar Gul's ability to reverse-swing a 13-over old cricket ball. "Every time we are getting into a nice momentum in England these controversies are created to disturb our players," said Younus ahead of tonight's semi-final showdown with South Africa.
"I have seen it happen before. But the players are pumped up to show they play the game fairly and sportingly." He certainly has been here before, and not just in England. When they played Australia in a bilateral series in the UAE before heading to the UK, he as tested by another mini-crisis. "It always happens between Pakistan and Australia," he said in Abu Dhabi after Saeed Ajmal, the spinner who has emerged as a key player, was reported for a suspect bowling action.
"They must play a fair game. If somebody bowls a doosra, or bowls at 160kmh, why does there need to be a controversy about it the whole time." If there is one side in the game who can cope with the constant distractions, it is Pakistan. Before the Gul issue was raised by the doubting New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori, it was in-fighting within the Pakistan board administration. Abdul Qadir, the chief selector, stepped down in the wake of a hefty defeat in the opening game to England, and fired salvos against the captain and coach, Intikhab Alam, over "interference" on his way out.
If that had an effect, it was solely a positive one. The players were energised to the extent that they thrashed the Netherlands to secure their advance to the Super Eight, and the episode seems a world away now they have marched on to the last four. "The players are in a confident mood and we are ready to take on anyone," said the coach Intikhab. "It does not matter if we are playing South Africa. They are not unbeatable. If you play to your strengths and do the basics right, any opponent can be beaten."
As bullish as Pakistan's players may be feeling, the task facing them this evening is a substantial one. Graeme Smith's Proteas side are the top-ranked country in limited-overs international cricket and have looked invincible since arriving in England. Smith believes his players, who remain undefeated and virtually unchallenged thus far, are the "all-round package" in the 20-over game. "For us to be in the final would be terrific," he said.
"We are professional and clinical, but I think we've proven that we have enough flair and options available to us to be the all-round package. "This team has come a long way, and we've proven that. How we've played under pressure has been incredible." While the slow bowlers, Shahid Afridi and Saeed Ajmal, are likely to pose a threat on a wearing Trent Bridge wicket, Smith thinks Gul could again be the danger man.
"Umar's obviously bowled really well," said the left-handed opener, Smith. "Their tactics are pretty up front, in the sense that they've been holding him back and using other guys first. "We've obviously discussed it. We've toured the subcontinent before and come across that type of situation - but it's something we'll talk about." Pakistan are likely to be unchanged from the side who beat Ireland last time out, while Jacques Kallis will return in place of Morne Morkel after he was rested from the game against India.
@Email:firstname.lastname@example.org Pakistan v South Africa, World Twenty20 1st semi-final, ART Prime Sport, 8.30 pm