Captain Shahid Afridi believes Pakistan, the last team to beat mighty Australia at the World Cup, have the capacity to end the defending champions’ incredible unbeaten 34-match streak on Saturday.
Australia, bidding for a fourth consecutive title, have not lost a World Cup match since Pakistan beat them in the 1999 edition, and Afridi said he was confident a repeat was possible.
“I am sure we have the capability and the firepower to beat Australia and break their unbeaten run,” said Afridi, whose team have a chance to top Group A with ten points if they win on a slow wicket at the R. Premadasa stadium.
Pakistan won their first three games - against Kenya, Sri Lanka and Canada - before going down by 110 runs to New Zealand, but qualified for the quarter-finals with a seven-wicket win over Zimbabwe on Monday.
Afridi said all his players realised the importance of the Australia game and were eager to give a good account of themselves.
“It is a very important match for us in the tournament and will determine our position in the group, so players know they have to win the match,” said Afridi, who believes Australia are yet to peak.
“If you look at their matches, they have shown vulnerability in both batting and bowling so we have to make sure we can exploit their weaknesses and if we can do that we can win,” said Afridi.
Pakistan have won three and lost four of their seven World Cup matches against Australia, including a crucial win on their way to the 1992 World Cup triumph Down Under.
Australia skipper Ricky Ponting agreed the Pakistan match would be his side’s first big test.
“We haven’t been fully tested yet, but we will be by Pakistan in Colombo and we are looking forward to it,” said Ponting, the only survivor of the 1999 defeat. Pakistan have two survivors - Shoaib Akhtar and Abdul Razzaq.
Openers Shane Watson and Brad Haddin have been among the runs and Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey have impressed, but Ponting has yet to fire, with a highest score of just 36.
“Hopefully I’m saving up the runs for the bigger matches coming up,” he said.
“The wicket in Colombo is an old one so will take a lot of spin. We will have to maximise against the new ball and we will look to Watson and Haddin again to give us the flying start that our openers are capable of providing.”
Australia’s three-pronged pace attack and spinners Jason Krejza and Steve Smith have also not been at their best, even against minnows Kenya and Canada.
Ponting agreed Pakistan had strengths in all areas.
“They are a dangerous team. They showed against Sri Lanka just how well they can play. They seem at the moment like they are a pretty well-balanced side with good fast bowlers and useful spinners.
“Afridi has been terrific for them so far,” said Ponting of his counterpart, who is the leading wicket-taker at the World Cup with 16 scalps. “They have got (Abdur) Rehman who can bowl, and (Mohammad) Hafeez, who can do a job for them as well.”
Australia have made only one change in their five matches, bringing in Hussey senior in place of younger brother David, and are expected to play the same line-up that beat Canada by seven wickets on Wednesday.
Pakistan are tempted to bring in Umar Akmal, who has recovered from a finger injury, for opener Ahmed Shahzad, who has disappointed so far, as the only change, keeping rusty paceman Akhtar on the bench.
Akhtar, whose colourful career has been a heady mix of on-field brilliance and off-field controversy, announced on Thursday he will quit international cricket after the World Cup.