Extra rest day could be vital for Pakistan attack
Sarfraz Ahmed was hopeful of having a fully fit Pakistan bowling attack for the Champions Trophy final after an accumulation of injuries piled up before and during Wednesday's semi-final. Mohammad Amir was ruled out of the semi-final with a back spasm while Hasan Ali and Imad Wasim picked up niggles in the field during the eight-wicket win against England.
Hasan, who stands as the tournament's leading wicket-taker with 10 scalps after his 3 for 35 in Cardiff, suffered a shin problem while Imad tweaked a calf. They followed Amir having failed a fitness test shortly before the toss after being given an injection to try and overcome the back spasm.
It could have been a major blow to Pakistan, but they barely felt his absence. Debutant Rumman Raees claimed 2 for 44 and the recalled Shadab Khan nabbed the key wicket of Joe Root as a collective display from the bowlers shackled an England batting lineup renowned for its destructive capabilities.
Sarfraz did admit, though, that it would be a boost to have Amir when they face either India or Bangladesh at The Oval. Having played in the first semi-final it means he has an additional day to get healthy before Sunday's final.
"Hopefully, he will recover for the finals," Sarfraz said. "Obviously, he's our main bowler. He's our best strike bowler."
Amir may be considered the main strike bowler, but Hasan has consistently been the pick of the attack and can lay claim to being the bowler of the tournament. Before the final group match against Sri Lanka, Mickey Arthur had called Hasan one of the "beacons" of this Pakistan side and they were sentiments echoed by Sarfraz who praised the youngsters that have come good.
"I think he has a little bit of a shin problem, but he's okay and bowling extremely well for us," Sarfraz said. "I'm very happy about my youngsters performing, especially Hasan who is improving day-by-day, Shadab has also and now Fakhar Zaman, he's playing in his third match and now he's batting just like a champion batsman.
"You cannot overstate how well they've done. We must give credit to the selection committee for selecting these players from the domestic circuit and their performances in the PSL. But even more credit goes to these boys who came into the team under such extreme pressure… Rumman played unexpectedly today but did well. This bodes well for Pakistan cricket's future, since all the young guys that come in perform."
Fakhar has been especially important in helping give Pakistan the rapid starts that have previously eluded them. Although a significant collapse followed against Sri Lanka, which almost cost them a semi-final spot, there were no such alarms against England. His opening partner, Azhar Ali, said Fakhar's freedom alongside him has made a huge difference.
"You are always comfortable with a partner who goes hard up front," Azhar said. "You can take a breather at the other end. The attention of the teams is to stop him and you get comfortable time at the other end so I'm really enjoying batting with him. He's making the most of his good form."
It wasn't a faultless performance in the field with a couple of catches going down in the first half of England's innings, although they were long forgotten by the end as Fakhar pulled off a stunning catch at deep square to remove Moeen Ali and substitute Ahmed Shehzad ran out Adil Rashid with a direct hit. Match-by-match Pakistan's game has come together after the hammering they took in their first match of the tournament against India.
"After the first loss we are very down, but credit goes to the team management," Sarfraz said. "They boosted us really well and credit goes to the players as well. They were very motivated. And after that match we have bowled well, fielded well and today the batting clicked as well."
On the prospect of a rematch with India in the final, Sarfraz smiled and said: "Best of luck to both of them. May the better team win."
Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo