Ireland v Pakistan, Group B, Adelaide March 15, 2015

'No choice' Sarfraz comes up trumps

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'Will need to be really professional against Australia' - Misbah

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Raza on March 17, 2015, 10:32 GMT

    not playing Sarfaraz for so many games raises questions over the management.... its the social media that forced the management to include him in the team otherwise he would have returned to Pakistan without playing a single match with the tag he cannot play on aussie pitches... to a certain degree yes may b he cannot play under normal aussie conditions but here the conditions are forced to change did u ever heard 400 runs scored this frequently in Aus ???? all these drop in pitches shows how much India has a say in ICC...totally flat batting pitches (one way traffic) yes ppl do like to see runs but they also want to see balance between ball and bat....

  • Quamar on March 17, 2015, 9:12 GMT

    Sarfaraz was always going to be a key player for Pak in this world cup, he was the shining light against Aus and NZ last year. Now Irfan is out Ajmal must return...

  • joseph on March 17, 2015, 8:16 GMT

    Good luck to PAK, and looking for a cracking entertainment. I would say that PAK is the only team that wins mostly by the performance of their bowlers. I would urge PAK to bat first and score 260+

  • Dummy4 on March 17, 2015, 3:42 GMT

    Misbah still backing his decisions of not given chance to Sarfaraz by lame excuses, Even though he didn't score the runs but held the catches which umer akmal dropped in the matches, scenario would be different altogether. Pakistan never had a Batsman wicket keeper in their team they always had a specialist wicket keeper who held the catches and score some 20,30 runs in the end i.e Moin Khan, Rashid Latif

  • SHAHZAD on March 16, 2015, 22:22 GMT

    @AZTECS. Hey there is a chance BD can beat IND, you dont know that. BD knocked IND out in 2007, that can be repeated too. If thats the case then if PAK beat AUS, then the SF will be PAK vs BD.

  • Muhammad on March 16, 2015, 21:22 GMT

    Go pak go. Great come back. Against australia need to play fearless and positve cricket. I have to say have enjoyed the unity in the team of late, carry on team pak .. Play united and rock the aussies out of the world cup..

  • ish on March 16, 2015, 19:38 GMT

    At the beginning of this tournament i had written off Pakistan due to all the injuries....this is Pakistan's second string bowlers with all the injuries but nonetheless they are doing a marvellous job. The beauty of this squad is that their know their limitations and are playing within their boundaries and for that makes them even more dangerous. I think even the Oz's are not so confident playing and winning against Pakistan, they also have the ability to choke. If Pakistan win that QF it will be a repeat of 1992 and new legends will be borne. The momentum is with Pakistan and they are a side that rides the tide well when its high.

    Good Luck Pakistan - Zindabad.

  • Dummy4 on March 16, 2015, 14:42 GMT

    Shahid Afridi's bowling form can make a huge difference between both teams. Currently, Pakistani bowlers are in immense form and are not leaking runs at all even on such flat surfaces. Whole team has gained its form except for Shahid. And we have already seen him bowling brilliantly against Ireland. Australia's batting is also fragile as evident from their match against New Zealand. They can fall against any top class bowling attack subject to good fielding by rest of the team. Any how, its not a one sided match as Australia will be facing the unpredictable Pakistani team infront of their home crowd. This is a pressure game for Australia as well.

  • Abdurrahim on March 16, 2015, 13:48 GMT

    simple. no competition game. Australia should vin quite convulsively.

  • Sirio on March 16, 2015, 9:41 GMT

    When come to QF you need to play your best resources and best fielders. Yasir and Younis are better fielders than many in this Pakistan side. I would keep Yasir as a fifth bowler and keep Afridi as a specialist batsman. He should take over bowling from Yasir though, if he is getting slogged. At least Pakistan will have a good and reliable fielder. I will not drop Rahat as all 4 pace bowlers are doing great job and are gelled together nicely and complementing each other. Why breaking their rhythm? They are all different and that's the beauty of Pakistan to produce 4 different type of fiery pace bowlers.

    Cont ......

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