Warne hopes to play warm-up before World Cup

SHANE WARNE expects to play his first match since he dislocated his shoulder, later this month.

The Australian leg-spinner said he hopes to play at least one warm-up match before leaving for the World Cup in South Africa.

Warne gave his injured shoulder an early test when he bowled seven practice overs at the SCG nets, then declared he was confident of playing again soon, probably in a club or state match.

"It all depends on how it progresses... but if it goes as well, then I'll definitely play a game before we go to the World Cup," Warne said. "It's going really well, it's good to see some progress, and hopefully everything will be sweet."

Warne dislocated his right bowling shoulder fielding a ball during a one-day international against England in Melbourne on December 15, casting doubt on whether he'd recover in time for the World Cup, starting February 9. Warne, Australia's leading wicket-taker in Tests and one-dayers, had an operation the next day and team officials said his chances of playing in the tournament would depend on how quickly the injury improved.

The 33-year-old was chosen in Australia's 15-man squad for the World Cup after selectors were told they could still replace him if he didn't recover in time, but the Australian management has said he might be rested for the first half of the tournament to save himself for the finals.

Pakistan can match Australia with firepower: Ramiz Raja

FORMER Pakistan batsman Ramiz Raja insisted Pakistan has the firepower and the will to put behind its recent poor form and match world champion Australia in the forthcoming cricket World Cup in South Africa.

"No doubt Australia looks in a different league with its current domination but I would maintain that Pakistan still has the firepower and the will to put everything behind it and match Australia in the big event," said Raja, a key member of Pakistan's 1992 Cup winning team.

"Even after the recent results, Pakistan has the ability to rise to the top four in the World Cup," Raja said.

Pakistan meets Australia in its opening match of the World Cup in Johannesburg on February 11.

"Australia has talent and method while Pakistan is lacking in method and it needs to overcome that through aggression because World Cup is all about aggression," Raja, 40, said.

"The Australians use and execute the talent in a remarkable manner and their decisions once they win the toss outsmart other teams."

Raja, now a director of the Pakistan Cricket Board, said Pakistan's bowling attack is the deadliest in the world.

"With Waqar Younis, Shoaib Akhtar, Wasim Akram and Mohammad Sami we have the deadliest attack in the world in which all are wicket-taking bowlers," he said. "Our grey area is the top order batting and we need to find the right combination in the World Cup," he said. "All top teams (such as) Australia, South Africa and India have stability in their top order."

Pakistan beat Australia in the Super Challenge Series held in Australia in June last year but since then lost twice to Australia and Sri Lanka in three matches each and was beaten in four of its five one-day games against South Africa.

"I think our win in Australia should have been the spring board to carry Pakistan as the top team in the World Cup but then we had injuries and youngsters failed to cope with the pressure," he said.

Pakistan lost three of its four games in the inaugural Morocco Cup in August which triggered a downslide culminating on a 0-3 rout at the hands of Australia in the Test series played at neutral venues.

It revived some fortunes with a 5-0 one-day series win in Zimbabwe in November last year but went down 1-4 in the one-day series and 0-2 down in the two-match Test series in South Africa.

"The Australians still rate us high because they know we have the flair and can beat them on our day," said Raja, who played 57 Tests and 192 one-day games for Pakistan.

Raja agreed Pakistan is known for its inconsistency but said he still finds positive aspects in the team. "I take the inconsistency tag in a positive manner because our players are individually brilliant and at times they bulldoze overall planning," he analysed.

Pakistan is placed in Pool A alongside Australia, England, India, Zimbabwe, the Netherlands and Namibia, with the top three teams going forward to the Super Sixes stage.

Pollock feels Zimbabwe games should go ahead

SHAUN POLLOCK would like to see the matches scheduled to be played in Zimbabwe during the World Cup to go ahead next month.

Pollock said: "I think the World Cup is a special occasion and it would be disappointing if it was spoilt by issues off the field. Obviously it would be nice for all the three countries (South Africa, Kenya and Zimbabwe) involved to be able to host the games.

"You can understand some of the teams not wanting to play because they respect their governments' view points, which is obviously their decision to make. But from my point of view it would just be disappointing if that sort of thing disrupted the World Cup."

Several English politicians have called for their team to boycott their match against Zimbabwe in Harare on February 13 in opposition to the Robert Mugabe regime. The Australian government has also expressed strong reservations about playing in Zimbabwe.

India and Pakistan, the other two leading sides scheduled to play in Zimbabwe, have said that they will go ahead with the fixtures. Zimbabwe is scheduled to host six games during the tournament. It will also play against Namibia and the Netherlands.

South Africa opposition calls for boycott

SOUTH AFRICAN opposition lawmakers said plans to hold the cricket World Cup matches in Zimbabwe would lend legitimacy to embattled Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe the same way the 1936 Olympics in Berlin were used to boost Hitler.

The matches would be used, "in the same way as the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin were used to build Adolf Hitler's profile," the main opposition Democratic Alliance said in a statement, the South African Press Association reported.

Britain, Australia and New Zealand have voiced opposition to their teams playing in Zimbabwe because of violence, human rights abuses and economic collapse they blame on Mugabe's policies.

South Africa has said it supports holding the scheduled matches there, arguing politics and sports should not be mixed. "In 1936 all the appeasers remained silent in the face of increasing human rights violations in Germany. Human rights violations on a large scale are now taking place as a matter of government policy in Zimbabwe," the Democratic Alliance said.

Murder set to become part of World Cup debate

ZIMBABWE'S suitability as a venue for the World Cup was in the spotlight again after a 27-year-old Australian tourist was stabbed to death at the country's prime tourist destination, the Victoria Falls. The Australian was attacked as he came out of the rain forest at the waterfall in northwestern Zimbabwe, the police chief in Victoria Falls, Alexio Paradzai, told state radio.

He was stabbed with a sharp object several times and died on the spot. No arrests have been made, the radio said. Both Australian Prime Minister John Howard and his British counterpart Tony Blair have called on their respective teams to pull out of their matches in Zimbabwe in protest at the policies of its President Robert Mugabe.

ICC has repeatedly said that it was not for it to make a political judgement on the Mugabe regime. Its assessment on Zimbabwe's safety and security status was based on a report compiled following a November visit by an ICC inspection team.