Absence of key players fetters Woolmer

Bob Woolmer is a high-profile coach. But what can he do with a Pakistan that so palpably lacks bowling muscle?

Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer is attempting to make it third time lucky in the Caribbean and win his first World Cup after two near misses with South Africa. Pakistan has been drawn in the same group as host West Indies, which it will face in the tournament opener on March 13, as well as minnows Ireland and Zimbabwe.

Pakistan, winner in 1992, will also benefit from Woolmer's rich World Cup pedigree that includes a role as High Performance Director with Kenya, Holland, Namibia and Canada at the 2003 tournament.

Former England batsman Woolmer, with Pakistan since 2004, coached a star-studded South Africa team in the 1996 and 1999 World Cups. South Africa was equipped to win at least one of those events.

The Proteas had players of the calibre of champion fielder Jonty Rhodes, Brian McMillan, Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock, Jacques Kallis and Gary Kirsten, led by the late Hansie Cronje.

West Indies eliminated Woolmer's men in the 1996 quarterfinal in Karachi, while in 1999 they exited on an inferior run rate after a bizarre tie with eventual winner Australia at Edgbaston.

South Africa then had to live with the tag of `choker' but Woolmer, who won an unprecedented treble in 1994 — County Championship, Sunday League and the Benson & Hedges Cup — when coach at Warwickshire, maintains he does not lose sleep over what might have been.

"I'm a realist, we lost by a fraction of a run, and so be it," Woolmer said. "I don't have nightmares over it. It's just a game. It's not the end of the world. "Both of those South African teams could have gone the whole way, but in 1996 we lost to a fantastic innings by Brian Lara.

"Then, in 1999 we lost by what was, effectively, one run. We always spoke at Warwickshire about how one run, whether batting or fielding, can be vital and it proved to be the case."

Former Kent player Woolmer, who played 19 Tests for England, has been ready for the World Cup for a long time even though a punishing schedule has kept his team occupied.

Pakistan has been hampered in recent months by injuries, which have made star bowlers Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif to withdraw from the squad.

This has not made planning for the tournament easy but Woolmer has not been overly distracted.

"The major obstacle we have to overcome is injuries," Woolmer said. "We have been unable to find our best combination of fast bowlers. But, saying that, one-day cricket is won by batting and scoring runs. So our batting combinations also have to be right.

"The most crucial thing about a World Cup is getting your players into form at the right time, but I imagine all the other big teams will be thinking the same way."

Woolmer is hoping the inconsistent but equally destructive Afridi will rediscover his match-winning qualities after a spell on the sidelines through poor form.

"He was given the opportunity to play some cricket in South Africa and hopefully he will return to his best," Woolmer said.

"We would like to get him back into form because he is a dynamic cricketer and someone who opposition teams are scared of if he comes off."

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