PALLEKELE, Sri Lanka – Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi is positive of wrapping up a World Cup quarter-final spot on Monday despite another twist in the ongoing Akmal brothers soap opera.Pakistan’s build-up to the game against Zimbabwe has been dominated by Kamran and Umar Akmal.
Ever since Kamran put in a blundering performance behind the stumps in the 110-run defeat to New Zealand last Tuesday, it had been widely-expected that younger brother Umar would take the gloves.
Umar was then accused of feigning a finger injury to save his brother’s job.
On Sunday, the 21-year-old Umar managed to sprain his right ankle while playing football during practice although Afridi said the batsman was not seriously hurt.
"We want to put everything behind us, the defeat and any other thing which could hurt our preparation. We are in a positive frame of mind and will play for a win," said Afridi.
"Umar is OK. As far as Kamran is concerned he has realised his mistakes and we have given him full confidence and at this moment he is our best option," said Afridi, ruling out any make-shift changes.
Pakistan also still have a problem with their openers whose inability to put on a healthy partnership is straining the middle-order.
But despite the headaches, captain Afridi insists his team will not repeat the first round exits of the 2003 and 2007 World Cups.
"I have a lot of confidence in my players. We will win against Zimbabwe to reach the quarter-finals," said Afridi, whose team face defending champions Australia in their last group match on March 19.
Pakistan, with six points after four matches, need a win to join co-hosts Sri Lanka into the last eight.
Pakistan are likely to rest express paceman Shoaib Akhtar, who went for 71 in his nine overs against New Zealand, and if Umar is ruled out, bring in paceman Wahab Riaz and batsman Asad Shafiq.
Zimbabwe still have a slim chance of making the last eight despite having so far collected just two points.
But they need to beat Pakistan and Kenya, dramatically improve their run-rate and still hope Australia beat Pakistan.
"We’ll believe that if we can play our best cricket then we can proceed but we must not repeat the mistakes of our last two matches," said Zimbabwe captain Elton Chigumbura, who will celebrate his 25th birthday on match day.
Chigumbura said his side will be wary of leg-spinner Afridi, who is the highest wicket-taker in the tournament with 15.
"With Afridi we have to make sure we look to play him straight. We have noticed that he’s had plenty of dismissals either bowled or lbw so we must make sure we don’t look to go across the line too much," said Chigumbura.
Pakistan have beaten Zimbabwe in three of their previous four World Cup matches, with the 2003 match abandoned due to rain.