'No choice' Sarfraz comes up trumps
Much as bowlers at this World Cup have been left with no option but to attack the batsmen before they are belted out of sight, Pakistan's captain Misbah-ul-Haq has admitted Sarfraz Ahmed was only returned to his side's plans for the tournament as the very last resort.
Out of touch and seemingly all at sea on the pitches of New Zealand and Australia early in his side's trip down under, Sarfraz was drafted back into the team for the steep task of facing South Africa. Forty-nine runs and six catches later, he had played a major role in the most stirring upset of the competition, and rode that confidence to a fluent century against Ireland that sealed Pakistan's quarter-final berth against Australia, also in Adelaide.
Earlier in the tournament, Misbah had offered up a pained expression when speaking of how the team could not afford to risk playing Sarfraz based on his deplorable form against New Zealand and also in an assortment of warm-up matches. Having overcome considerable anxiety to reach the knockout phase, now he could display the merest hint of a smile when pondering Sarfraz's role in turning Pakistan's fortunes.
"We tried him when we came to New Zealand for a couple of practice games and then ODIs, and then in the warm-up games before the World Cup," Misbah said. "In these conditions he was not up to the mark, he was not getting runs and he was finding it difficult even in the nets. That's why we changed our mind and were in a difficulty about how to go with him at the top.
"But finally once we tried a specialist opener we were just left with no choice, and we got Sarfraz back at the top and he responded really well. In the first game he scored 49 and gave us a really good start and now he's scored a hundred. Even today it was crucial to have a partnership at the top and he delivered."
Room was found for Sarfraz by dropping Nasir Jamshed and while also dispensing with the vastly experienced Younis Khan. Haris Sohail has played a similarly important role at times, his left-arm spin and knack for a handy tally also adding balance to the line-up, while Umar Akmal is no doubt relieved that Sarfraz has stopped him from having to moonlight as a gloveman.
More consistent for Pakistan has been the performance of a pace battery that lacks the profile of Australia's but loses little by comparison for pace or movement. A trace of reverse swing was seen against Ireland, while the aggression of Wahab Riaz, Sohail Khan and Mohammad Irfan - expected to be fit for Friday after missing this game - has been as effective as it has been strikingly different from other sides.
"Sometimes you get reverse swing when you're bowling first," Misbah said. "It's really difficult in the evenings with a little bit of dew, but still in Australian conditions you get pace and bounce. If your bowlers have the ability to bowl around 150 and a little bit of extra bounce, it's not just a matter of swinging the ball.
"It can really hurry on to the batsmen and you can get wickets with the short balls if you're bowling in the right area you can really create pressure. So that's what these pacers have been doing. If you get reverse swing, that's a plus."
Having been bolstered at the top of the order and also developed plenty of confidence in their bowlers, Pakistan can now look towards Australia with a far less cluttered mind. Misbah even posited the view that the pressure they will face in the quarter-final will be minimal next to the introspection required ahead of a match against Ireland where anything less than victory would have been unacceptable.
"It is always difficult playing against a team having no pressure," Misbah said, perhaps understating Ireland's view of themselves. "Ireland are just playing their cricket without pressure and all the pressure is on others sides because everybody wants us to win because we are the favourites against them, so all the pressure is on the Test-playing nations.
"I could really say this was a much bigger game for us in terms of pressure, and it will be less against Australia because they are the favourites, they are playing at their own grounds, so we have nothing to lose. Just go there, express yourself and hope for the best."
As for Australia, Misbah is relaxed. After the turnaround witnessed in Sarfraz alone, anything's possible. "Why not?" Misbah said. "On a day the team which plays better can win, and in a one-day game, one spell, one good innings can change the whole course of the game. We've got those sorts of bowlers, those sorts of players who can do it for Pakistan."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig