Pakistan to face England in the first semifinal of the ICC champions trophy. Here's a quick look at what's happening.
Finally we’re having a subcontinent reunion after 70 whole years and for the first time on a grand cricketing stage since they parted ways in 1947 – although the tigers of east were late in their sovereignty – England, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan all in the semi-finals of the ICC Champions trophy 2017. It’s been long overdue to be honest and Pakistan, living up to their reputation, almost backed out of it, playing the role of that one friend in every group who cancels plans like a Bollywood lead getting married to the bad guy but in the end, the battle of the worst ensured it with the two of the closest cricketing nations present today, in terms of personal relations, competing for a place in the semi-final (most probably against the hosts). We did, however, see the drawbacks of this courtesy though, with the bat and in the field as both sides constantly denied chances to grasp the vacant spot but in the end, the men in green came out on top on the back of Sri Lankan nobility and now find themselves in a cage with the triple lions.
The Morgan XI will be looking to continue their form in the tournament, being the only unbeaten team in the tournament – and the only team to have no games washed out from their group - as they look for their second consecutive final in the Champions trophy. Everything, from the form of the players to the team combination, seems right for the hosts except for the recent slump in form of opener Jason Roy who aggregates 51 in his last 8 innings for England.
Openers Hales and Roy have put on nearly 1300 runs for England since the ICC world cup 2015 in 38 innings together which has played a key role in their rejuvenation after a woeful campaign. England have an in-form Jonny Bairstow at the bench who has 3 fifties in 4 innings for England in 2017 and is coming on the back of a massive 174 in 113 deliveries against Durham in the Royal London cup last month. He has played 22 ODIs for England thus far and is yet to make a century in the shorter format.
Looking at the team combination for England, he is likely to open alongside Alex Hales considering the hint from the English captain; something which he hasn’t yet done before for England but is familiar with back in Yorkshire.
Pakistan will be looking to capitalize on back to back games at Sophia Gardens and are most likely to go with an unchanged side considering their philosophy of the winning combination although coach Mickey Arthur has made a reputation of not letting Pakistan be Pakistan – even though the samples may beg to differ. If anything, Pakistan may look to change the experienced Muhammad Hafeez to bring in the promising young leg spinner Shadab Khan – who can bat having a first class hundred in England considering Hafeez hasn’t added much with the bat anyways this tournament and averages 23.31 in England in 20 innings at a strike rate of 62.39 runs per hundred balls faced and get Malik and Sarfaraz – who’ve been their best batsmen over the last couple of years – to bat higher up the order consequently getting the promising young all-rounder, Faheem Ashraf, who averages 33 with the bat in First class cricket and 15 in List-A cricket, to bat at number 6, solving the power hitting problem lower down the order - the bold scenario being highly unlikely considering the shorter straight boundaries in Cardiff despite the captain, Sarfaraz, admitting to problems in the middle order needing to be sorted out.
The key for Pakistan will be the recaptured love affair of the pace bowling attack that has taken 16 wickets in the last two games with strike pacemen, Muhammad Amir finding form in the last game and Junaid Khan and young Hassan Ali in good nick, averaging 18.6 and 19.6 with the ball respectively. Pakistan will be banking on Mardan born opening sensation, Fakhar Zaman, to provide a good start in the top order who has looked the most solid of all Pakistani batsmen striking at 137.28 in the two games he’s played with a 50 in the last one.
The late Richie Benaud used to say that the easiest way to keep the run rate down is to take wickets; England have turned that philosophy on its head by keeping the pressure on the bowlers and boldly counter attacking despite being three or four wickets down for so many - something they’ll be looking to continue in the games to come. They have had tremendous success over the last two years, winning 30 of the 47 games they’ve played with an economy of 6.27 and 15 of those have come chasing at a win-loss ratio off 3.00.
The average first inning score in Sophia Gardens is on the lower side at 223 since it began hosting ODI cricket in 1999 while in the last 5 years it jumped to 251 and in the 5 matches since the 2015 world cup it’s a whopping 287 with the highest chase at 304 coming from Pakistan themselves last year against England that prevented a whitewash in the 5 match series. Evidently, the pitch is a good batting surface with assistance to bowlers that bowl in a good length and assists seem movement off the pitch come, the Pakistani pace trio, assisted by the all-rounder Faheem Ashraf. Although the shorter straight boundaries prevent the heavy usage of spin, bowlers bowling wicket to wicket, not pitching the ball too far up could make for an interesting test for the batsmen.
The biggest issue Pakistan will have to tackle is the short ball; yes it sounds extremely weird for England especially with the Asian troubles against the lateral movement, the place for which England is like the Oort cloud if you want to explore comets. So far an astounding 91% of dismissals for Pakistan have been against the short of a length or short pitched delivery. Pakistan have generally been fine while attacking the ball, the problems arise in trying to guide it to the side of – or realistically, through the field. With England’s in form pace attack coming in one after the other, Pakistan will have to learn quickly if they want to claim responsibility for forcing England out.
Pakistan now hold the record for most appearances in semi-finals of ICC tournaments joint with Australia and India. They’re like a Chihuahua that looks in the mirror and sees a Rottweiler but beware for you can never know which one comes into the field; they can either own the day with their brilliance; have the number one side in the world on the mat or be simply blown away by the stellar wind of a supernova a million lightyears away. The English side hasn’t had a bad day so far and captain, Morgan, hopes that their best cricket is yet to come and at home is always a mighty big task to topple the side arguably playing the best cricket they have in decades. With the weather forecast rain-free for tomorrow, we can look forward to a tough encounter between the side looking to continue dominance at home and in ODI cricket and take a 50 over ICC trophy for the very first time and the side that starts its flight like a baby sparrow learning to fly and soars like a golden eagle in the bright blue sky.