HYDERABAD: Pakistan tackle outsiders Netherlands in their opening match of the World Cup on Friday desperate to avoid a repeat of the disastrous start of four years ago which undermined their campaign.
In 2019, Pakistan lost to the West Indies first up in Nottingham.
Shot out for a paltry 105 in 21.4 overs, Pakistan went down by seven wickets. They eventually missed out on a semifinal spot on net run-rate.
Four years on and Pakistan are already riding a familiar tournament rollercoaster.
They crashed out of last month’s Asia Cup after a big defeat against arch-rivals India before being ousted by Sri Lanka in the Super Four stage.
They also lost both their recent World Cup warm-ups against New Zealand and Australia.
Despite the sketchy form, captain Babar Azam insists his team are ready for the World Cup in a country which only two of the squad have ever visited.
Pakistan last played in India in 2016 at the Twenty20 World Cup.
“We had good practice in the last week since our arrival and two useful workouts in the warm-up games,” said Azam.
The captain is the top-ranked batsman in ODI cricket and reinforced his credentials with knocks of 80 and 90 in the two warm-ups, returning to form after a dismal Asia Cup.
“The first match of a tournament is always very important so we are definitely looking forward to a winning start,” he said.
Babar insisted 1992 champions Pakistan will not underestimate the Dutch, a team they have defeated six times in six meetings.
The Netherlands, ranked 14 in the world, had to come through the qualifying tournament in Zimbabwe earlier this year and made it to the World Cup alongside Sri Lanka.
“I want to congratulate the Netherlands for playing in this World Cup. They played some good cricket in the qualifiers and that is why they are here,” added Babar.
“There is no room for complacency and we will be on the ball from the first match.”
Pakistan will hope their spin trio of Shadab Khan, Usama Mir and Mohammad Nawaz, backed by part-timers Iftikhar Ahmed and Agha Salman, expose opponents’ weaknesses against slow bowling at the tournament.
Although they are without the injured Naseem Shah, spearhead Shaheen Shah Afridi and Haris Rauf will pose a formidable new ball threat.
The Netherlands have only ever won two matches at the World Cup since their maiden appearance in 1996.
Spinners Colin Ackermann and Roelof van der Merwe, and pacer Paul van Meekeren are back after missing the qualifiers.
Wesley Barresi, the only surviving member of the 2011 World Cup on the sub-continent, lends experience to the batting which also boasts prime run-getters Max O’Dowd, Vikramjit Singh, Teja Nidamanuru and skipper Scott Edwards.
But their hopes will rest largely on all-rounders Bas de Leede and Logan van Beek, key performers at the qualifiers.
De Leede scored 285 runs and picked up 15 wickets in Zimbabwe while Van Beek smashed 30 runs and took two wickets in the knife-edge Super Over win against the West Indies.
“The opportunity to play in a World Cup is something that a lot of these guys have dreamt of,” said Tonga-born Edwards.
Despite their status as rank outsiders, the Dutch do not lack confidence.
“We hold high hopes going into this World Cup that we can put in a couple of really big performances and those can result in wins,” coach Ryan Cook told AFP.
“We’ll be putting everything that we can in to getting five or six wins to take us into the semifinals.”