The perplexing world of the Pakistan cricket team

ROS ISLET, Saint Lucia: They can’t play at home, they have arrived in the Caribbean without several senior players, a former coach has questioned their sanity and yet they are in the World Twenty20 semi-finals.

Welcome, to what seems, is the often perplexing world of the Pakistan cricket team, who will continue the defence of their World Twenty20 title against Australia at the Beausejour Stadium  on today May 14, 2010 Friday.  Last year’s attack on the Sri Lanka team bus in Lahore effectively led to the suspension of international cricket in Pakistan and turned the national side into globe-trotters denied the chance to play in front of their own fans.

If that were not bad enough, a wretched tour of Australia, where Pakistan lost all three Tests, five one-dayers and a Twenty20 match led to seven players being either banned or fined by the Pakistan Cricket Board.

Former captains Younus Khan and Mohammad Yousuf were banned indefinitely from playing for Pakistan.

Shoaib Malik, another former captain, was banned for one year and fined two million rupees (24,000 dollars), as was all-rounder Rana Naved.

Meanwhile Shahid Afridi, now Pakistan’s captain and the Akmal brothers, Kamran and Umar, were heavily fined.

It was during the Australia tour that Afridi was involved in an extraordinary incident where cameras caught him munching on the ball during a one-day international in Perth.

On top of all of this, Pakistan saw paceman Umar Gul, the leading wicket-taker in Twenty20 cricket with 43 victims in 26 matches, withdraw with a shoulder injury.

And while the team were in the West Indies, a report into the Australia tour became public which quoted former coach Intikhab Alam as saying the players were “mentally retarded”.

Yet the kind of off-field dramas that might destabilise rival international sides are regarded as part and parcel of Pakistani cricket life.

“It’s a normal thing for us, going through this kind of situation,” Afridi told reporters of Pakistan’s disciplinary problems at Beausejour Stadium Wednesday.

“The only thing is performance and if we win the games everything will be fine,” Afridi added.

As was the case in England last year, Pakistan have had a less than smooth journey to the semi-finals, having been well beaten early on by Australia, losing by six wickets to England in the Super Eights and then going down by one run in the second round to New Zealand.

But in a match they had to win to stay in the tournament, Pakistan beat South Africa by 11 runs on Monday.

“We had a very similar situation in England, but we are focused on beating Australia,” leg-spinning all-rounder Afridi said. “I think we are feeling good.

“We have played well but just missed some opportunities, against England and then just losing (on the last ball) against New Zealand.

“Overall the guys are very confident after the last game and I think it will be a great game against Australia.”

Afridi said his team’s progress was vital to the well-being of cricket in Pakistan and urged the rest of the game’s leading nations to return to his homeland, saying his side had toured countries where security was an issue.

“This competition is very important,” he said. “We are here to play good cricket and win this competition because there is no cricket in Pakistan.

“We tell the people we still love playing cricket away and at home as well and we want to see cricket back at home.

“The situation in India was not so good four, five, six years ago when Pakistan visited there and Sri Lanka as well but Pakistan was the only team that visited there and played there.

“I think this is the thing we should (have), cricket relations should continue.”

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