Semifinal 1: England v Pakistan
Date: Wednesday (June 14)
Venue: Sophia Gardens, Cardiff
81 matches; England 49 wins; Pakistan 30 wins; No Result 2.
So here they are – the team that everyone knew would make it to the final four, and the team that nobody expected to come this far. England have lived up to the pre-tournament hype of being favourites. Pakistan too have lived up to their 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 definitely start favourites. But this is a matter of just one day, and everybody knows what Pakistan are capable of doing on their day.
Recent form matters to one side, and hardly bothers the other. England thrive on momentum. They take even dead rubbers with ultra-seriousness because they have their eyes on something bigger – the World Cup 2019.
Pakistan have no such worries. They could go two years without winning anything, sneak into a world tournament as the last team, lose the first game against their arch rivals in a terrible manner, and yet make it to the semifinal.
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 are set to correct that too with Jonny Bairstow taking guard in the nets on match eve straightaway, with Roy was 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 turn up. If the Pakistan that played India – the one that bowled terribly and fielded even worse – make an appearance, then there’s little to worry for England. If the Pakistan that played against South Africa and Sri Lanka do, the story might be different.
The pitch for the first semifinal 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 legspinner?
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’s 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 their 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 one 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 their 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.