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Ponting wary of Pakistan | February 08, 2003 16:21 IST

Australia captain Ricky Ponting said his team is ready to nullify the threat posed by Pakistan as he prepared for his side's World Cup opener on Monday.

Australia, then led by Ponting's predecessor Steve Waugh, thrashed Pakistan by eight wickets in the 1999 World Cup final at Lord's.

But the current Aussie skipper said his side would not be taking their opposition lightly and would pile on the pressure from the start.

"We know that they can be an explosive and a very good side," he said.

"At the same time if we put Pakistan under pressure early in the game, they'll find it very hard to bounce back. These guys have a very strong bowling line-up".

"If conditions suit them they are very dangerous and can take early wickets.

"So we have to make sure that we can get through the new ball and hopefully take it from there.

"Akhtar is just a very, very dangerous bowler - we know that we need to get through those tough spells and hopefully he doesn't do too much damage."

India captain Sourav Ganguly is confident his side can bounce back despite their latest embarrassing defeat.

With their World Cup opener against Holland just days away, the defeat was certainly not the tonic India needed.

After the match, Ganguly expressed his bitter disappointment but remained optimistic, having witnessed his side beat KwaZulu-Natal, just days before.

"We batted very poorly," said the Indian captain.

"There are no excuses, the wicket was not bad, its just that we did not put our heads down.

"We made 265-7 against this same Natal team two days ago, so I am not unduly concerned," added Ganguly.

"The bowlers did not have a good workout in that match due to rain, but they had a full innings to bowl today."

Muttiah Muralitharan will be fit for Sri Lanka's World Cup opener against New Zealand.

The off-spinner has been struggling to regain full fitness since tearing a thigh muscle in the recent one-day series against Australia.

And, despite playing in Thursday's warm-up match against Free State, the 30-year-old remained a major doubt to face the Black Caps.

But on Friday, team physiotherapist Alex Kontouri said he had come through the game unscathed and would play on Monday.

He said: "He is as good as before. Since it was the World Cup we were a bit cautious about how soon to play him.

"But he came out well on Thursday and I see no reason why he will not take the field on Monday."

Former fast bowler Sarfraz Nawaz has dismissed Pakistan's chances of winning the World Cup because the team is too weak.

His words come after Pakistan's embarrassing 26-run defeat to provincial side Easterns in Benoni on Thursday.

Nawaz, a veteran of 55 Tests, said he would be surprised if Pakistan managed to advance beyond the Super Sixes.

"The team is too weak. Physically, they are not in good condition," Nawaz said.

"Most of the players are unfit and those who are fit are out of form. The fielding is weak and five players are near to retiring from international cricket.

"It's hard to predict that this team can win the World Cup."

"If the World Cup was not scheduled for this time, most of the older players could have easily retired from the international game six to eight months ago," he said.

Captain Heath Streak has dismissed reports suggesting several Zimbabwe players want their World Cup matches switched from the troubled country.

England's cricketers have threatened to boycott their match against the joint hosts on 13 February in Harare because of safety concerns.

Reports said several leading Zimbabwe players, all of whom remained anonymous, did not want the games to be played in the country.

"I'm not aware of who those individuals are, if there are any," Streak said.

"I'm wary of the fact that they haven't named anyone."

Australia Test captain Steve Waugh was taken to hospital for scans after being struck on the head by an errant throw while fielding for New South Wales.

Waugh, who was not selected for his country's World Cup campaign, was hit on the temple by a wayward throw from team-mate Stuart Clark.

The 37-year-old left the Melbourne Cricket Ground immediately and was taken to hospital.

However, scans revealed that he had not suffered a fracture and that there was no bleeding of the brain.

"Steve suffered a concussion-type injury," said NSW team physio Pat Farhart.

"There was no loss of consciousness."

International Cricket Council chief executive Malcolm Speed said World Cup organisers would reduce the length of England's stay in Zimbabwe in a bid to convince them to play in the strife-torn country.

"We are shortening the period they are in Zimbabwe," he told a press conference on Friday after England's final appeal to have next week's match in Harare shifted to South Africa.

The appeal was turned down by South African judge Albie Sachs a day after World Cup organisers turned down England's initial request for the switch because of security concerns.

Speed said officials from both England and Australia, who are also due to play in Zimbabwe in the tournament, had met with ICC security experts on Friday to discuss the most up-to-date information on the situation in Zimbabwe.

"There's no England and Wales Cricket Board request for additional security," he added.

ICC president Malcolm Gray presented South Africa cricket captain Shaun Pollock with the ICC Test Championship mace today to mark South Africa's rise to the top of the ICC Test Championship table.

"On behalf of the ICC I would like to congratulate Shaun and his team for the excellent standard of Test match cricket they have played over recent years, which has now earned them top position on the ICC Test Championship table," said Gray.

"Test cricket is hard work, and no side has worked harder than South Africa in terms of the series it has played against all other countries. One of the main aims of the ICC's 10 year Test calendar is to encourage teams to play each other home and away on a regular basis, and South Africa has been prominent in achieving that," Gray added.

"We have had a really good record away from home, which shows our cohesion as a unit," Pollock said.

England's players are expected to announce today whether they will play their match against Zimbabwe in Harare on Thursday.

The onus is on them following the judgment by Justice Albie Sachs to uphold the decision of the International Cricket Council's technical committee not to move the fixture to South Africa.

The players debated the issue in their Cape Town hotel last night but, as already revealed, they are split over whether to play in Harare.

On Thursday afternoon one of the team of lawyers for the England and Wales Cricket Board admitted that there was dissension from the party line of not playing the game.

But whatever the differences in the English camp the players are clearly agitated and Malcolm Speed, the ICC's chief executive, who met them yesterday evening to reassure them, admitted: "The players are certainly concerned about the Zimbabwe fixture, quite agitated about it."

Expectations of a cricket crazy nation ride on his shoulders, but Sachin Tendulkar today reminded his fans that cricket is a team game in which an individual can play a role "only upto a point".

"I am happy as long as I know I gave off my best on a cricket field. I would rather judge myself in my own eyes," Tendulkar said.

"By thinking what others are feeling about you could only mean additional pressure on you. The demads of the game are stiff anyway."

And the master blaster is quietly confident of playing his role in the team's performance over the next few weeks.

"I am confident this is a balanced Indian side and would do well in the tournament," said Tendulkar while emphasising, "I am not the only one who would be key to team's success."

"I have always believed it is a team game and a team only does well when everyone plays his part. An individual can play his role only up to a point," said Tendulkar.

Defending champions Australia believe that Pakistan speed king Shoaib Akhtar is the man they must subdue if they are to get the defence of their World Cup crown off to a flying start when the two sides clash here next week.

"When we bat, our main aim has to be to try to blunt the early threat of Shoaib Akhtar," opening batsman Matthew Hayden told on Friday.

"His threat is two-pronged. First, Pakistan look to his explosive pace for breakthroughs with the new ball, openings that can then be exploited by Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram.

"Then, he will come back later and look to use his pace allied with reverse swing, as he did so well together with Wasim, when Pakistan beat us in a World Cup group match at Headingley four years ago.

"He and I have had some great recent battles and he is a dangerous player. But one thing I will not be doing is biting back. It is not my style to get into a war of words with another player in print and, in any case, my priority is to let my bat do the talking."

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