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Australia V Pakistan World T20 Preview - Match 26

Australia hasn't got the best out of David Warner, while Pakistan's campaign has been hamstrung by Sarfraz's lack of opportunities

24 March 2016 16:15

Australia and Pakistan approach their cricket as differently as a scientist and an artist go about their jobs. No matter how contrasting their philosophies though, the two teams would have jumped in excitement when Mushfiqur Rahim reduced Bangladesh’s equation to two needed off three balls against India in Bangalore.

“We were all sitting together," said Shoaib Malik, when asked if India's one-run win was a difficult pill to swallow. "We wanted Bangladesh to win, not because we don’t like India, (but) we want to see ourselves go ahead in the tournament. We were supporting good cricket. If it was heartbreaking, I won’t be sitting here.”

India’s win not only kept it alive in the ICC World Twenty20 2016, but also made things slightly tougher for Australia and Pakistan. When the two teams face off in their Super 10s Group 2 game at the PCA IS Bindra Stadium in Mohali on Friday (March 25), each would know that a win is the least that it needs in order to brighten semifinal aspirations.

If Pakistan beats Australia, then it has to wait for Australia to get the better of India and hope the net run-rate favours it. Australia, on the other hand, has to beat both Pakistan and India, which it faces at the same venue on March 27, to join New Zealand in the last four.

The group equation is so tantalisingly poised because Pakistan slipped up in its chase of 181 against New Zealand here. Sharjeel Khan, the Pakistan Super League’s first centurion, blasted his way to a 25-ball 47, and the equation was 102 needed off 70 balls when the second wicket fell.

On a placid track, the opportunity was there for Ahmed Shehzad and Umar Akmal to show their worth by rotating the strike and finding the odd boundary. Instead, the pair managed just 17 runs in four overs.

At the other end of the spectrum is Sarfraz Ahmed, easily the most improved Pakistan cricketer in recent years. The wicketkeeper-batsman has always impressed with his ability to soak up the pressure on the biggest stage, and Akmal’s rise to No.4 has meant that Sarfraz’s batting skills have remained unutilised in this tournament, especially after he finished as the team’s joint-highest run-getter, along with Malik, in the Asia Cup.

Had he come at No.4 against New Zealand and rotated the strike, maybe Pakistan would not have been left to score 58 in the last five overs. With Mohammad Hafeez's recovery from a knee injury looking increasingly unlikely, the Australian clash could just be the chance for Pakistan to create a plan revolving around Sarfraz. If it clicks, its axis could turn around yet again.

Australia, on the other hand, would want an evening where their entire batting unit fired, putting enough runs on the board for the Adam Zampa-led bowling unit to defend on a smallish ground.

Even if Australia has nine Indian Premier League players in the squad, their biggest issue at this World T20 has been their inability to find the right team balance. The demotion of David Warner to No.4 in the series against South Africa before the World T20, in order to accommodate an in-form Usman Khawaja, worked there, but Warner has shown in the IPL that he is at his best when opening the innings in these conditions.

Peter Nevill admitted that the three-wicket win against Bangladesh was not a complete performance, but that is a thing of past. The task ahead is pretty straightforward.

Even as some of the players from both the teams indulged in playing Holi – the festival of colours – the Pakistani seamers practiced perfecting their yorkers during a centre-pitch practice session. Australia and Pakistan produced one of the best moments of the 2015 World Cup through the famous Wahab Riaz-Shane Watson duel in the quarterfinal. There is no reason why another moment cannot better it in their first encounter since that game, which could end up being Shahid Afridi’s swansong if Pakistan loses.

Teams (from):
Australia: Steven Smith (capt), David Warner, Ashton Agar, Nathan Coulter-Nile, James Faulkner, Aaron Finch, John Hastings, Josh Hazlewood, Usman Khawaja, Mitchell Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Peter Nevill (wk), Andrew Tye, Shane Watson, Adam Zampa.

Pakistan: Shahid Afridi (capt), Ahmed Shehzad, Sharjeel Khan, Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik, Umar Akmal, Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), Imad Wasim, Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Irfan, Anwar Ali, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Sami, Khalid Latif.

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