Pakistan is riding the crest after its late charge into the semi-final; if it is switched on, it can prove a handful.
Match 13 Preview
Semi-final 1: England v Pakistan
Date: Wednesday 14 June 14 2017
Cardiff Wales Stadium, Cardiff
81 matches; England 49 wins; Pakistan 30 wins; no result 2.
So here they are – the team that everyone suspected would make it to the final four, and the team that few expected to come this far. England has lived up to the pre-tournament hype of being the favourite. Pakistan too had lived up to its own tag, of being unpredictable.
It’s the clash of these two tags that makes Wednesday’s game impossible to predict. If this was a five-match series, England would certainly start favourite. But this is a matter of just one day, and everybody knows what Pakistan is capable of doing on its day.
Recent form matters to one side, and hardly bothers the other. England thrives on momentum. Pakistan has no such worries. It could go two years without winning anything, sneak into a world tournament as the last team, lose the first game heavily against its arch rival and yet make it to the semi-final.
It’s a clash of one team’s batting against the other’s bowling too. Three of England’s top four batsmen have two scores each in excess of 50 in the tournament. Their No. 5 – Ben Stokes – has batted twice and made 48 and 102*. The only worry is Jason Roy at the top, but England id set to correct that too with Jonny Bairstow taking guard in the nets on match eve straightaway. Roy was, meanwhile, almost sadly banished to picking up balls near the boundary rope.
If there’s one team you can count on to stop this England line-up, it’s Pakistan. But it also depends on which Pakistan turnd up. If the Pakistan that played India – the one that bowled and fielded well below its best – makes an appearance, then there’s little to worry for England. If the Pakistan that played against South Africa and Sri Lanka does, the story might be different.
The pitch for the first semi-final is the same as the one used for Monday’s game. The wear and tear could mean a bigger role for spinners, although the short straight boundaries could negate the assistance. Could it mean Pakistan bring in Shadab Khan, the leg-spinner?
And importantly, the weather is expected to be clear, just like it was on Monday.
Junaid Khan v Alex Hales: Junaid was not even Pakistan’s first-choice pacer for the tournament but you wouldn’t have known that seeing his spell against Sri Lanka. He was terrific with the new ball and even better with the old, partnering with Mohammad Amir to run through the Sri Lankan middle-order.
He’ll have a tough time at the top against Hales, though. Hales loves to attack, and in particular loves hitting down the ground. With an unsettled partner and against a terrific bowler, Hales’ fortunes at the top could set up the game.
Mark Wood: The focus is so much on England’s batting that it’s easy to forget its bowlers’ performances in recent times. In the absence of Chris Woakes, Wood has taken over the mantle of leading England’s attack. He has bowled in every stage of the innings and often takes big wickets; his latest victims include Hashim Amla, Kane Williamson, David Warner and Steven Smith.
Fakhar Zaman: The entire Pakistan team is probably a wildcard, but one of the most crucial ones sits right at the top of the batting order. Zaman is the aggressive opener Pakistan badly needed to partner Azhar Ali. A left-hand bat, he made his debut in the tournament and has made quick knocks of 31 and 50 in the two games he has played. Can he make that longer?
WATCH OUT FOR…
Jonny Bairstow: Bairstow is likely to replace an out of form Roy and get his well-deserved place in the England XI. That he isn’t an automatic choice in its first XI speaks volumes of England’s depth, but Bairstow has filled in gaps with tremendous ease whenever called on. In his last four ODI innings, he has scores of 56, 10*, 72* and 51. Where exactly he will fit in to the line-up will be interesting to see.
England: Eoin Morgan (capt), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Sam Billings, Jos Buttler (wk), Steven Finn, Alex Hales, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Joe Root, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, David Willey, Mark Wood.
Pakistan: Sarfraz Ahmed (capt, wk), Fakhar Zaman, Ahmed Shehzad, Azhar Ali, Babar Azam, Faheem Ashraf, Hasan Ali, Imad Wasim, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Hafeez, Shadab Khan, Shoaib Malik, Haris Sohail, JunaidKhan, Rumman Raees.