Surging Pakistan prepare for dominant Australia
Friday, March 20, 2015
Start time 1400 local (0330 GMT)
Contentious-selection riddled, injury-ravaged, have Pakistan limped to this quarter-final, or have they surged? Through their campaign, they have delivered to their fans that characteristic mix of infuriation and ecstasy. Against West Indies, Pakistan could not catch. Against South Africa, Pakistan caught fire. So they have oscillated through the tournament, invoking cornered tiger comparisons, even though 23 years later, they are playing a vastly different game, with a vastly different team, under a vastly different leader.
Misbah-ul-Haq's reading of the pulse of an opposition innings and the mood of his bowlers has underpinned Pakistan's latest spurt of form, but their performances have rallied around the efforts of two other men. Sarfraz Ahmed, whose batting technique deemed too flawed for opening by his own coach right before he was picked in that role, has brought dynamism to the top of the innings. In his panache, opportunism, and ungainly wicket celebrations, cricket has its latest quintessential Pakistan scrapper.
Wahab Riaz, meanwhile, has been the bowlers' inspiration, intimidating with bounce and slicing through top orders with pace. It appears Pakistan will sorely miss Mohammad Irfan, but then their bowling stocks have been shown to run staggeringly deep before.
The hosts, characteristically for them too, have never strayed far from the high standards they set on the first day of this World Cup, against England. Mitchell Starc's yorkers and Glenn Maxwell's reality-warping knocks have struck fear into opposition dressing rooms. But to even get to Maxwell, bowlers have to remove the likes of David Warner, Steven Smith and Michael Clarke first.
Australia are, no doubt, better drilled, better rounded, and better placed to win this match. But as New Zealand have shown, they can be exposed too. The way Australia's tournament has gone, it is difficult to see them dropping their intensity, or buckling under the pressure of a knockout match, and Pakistan will know they must find something truly special to make the semi-finals.
(last five matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Aside from four wickets in the demolition of Afghanistan in Perth, Mitchell Johnson has been a sidelight of the Australia attack, as Starc has reaped wickets and plaudits. Australia's uneven schedule has not helped his rhythm - there were, at one stage, two weeks between outings. But as the tournament heats up now, Johnson feels his bowling is too. "I just feel like I'm starting to click now," he said on Tuesday. If both he and Starc hit their stride, Pakistan's top order may need to dig deep.
Between Irfan's awkward bounce and Wahab's speed, Rahat Ali's swing and control have gone somewhat unappreciated. In the four matches he's played so far in the World Cup, Rahat has been the first-change provider of economy - he has not traveled at more than five an over yet. But he has also picked up at least one wicket in each outing, and had three against South Africa. In a tournament where middle-overs wickets have shaped matches, Rahat's tight, testing spells could be telling.
Australia appear very settled. The only conundrum for the selectors appears to be whether Josh Hazlewood should play over Pat Cummins. The warm-up match in Adelaide gave Cummins 3 for 30, however, and he had also taken three wickets against Scotland, so he appears the frontrunner.
Australia (probable): 1 Aaron Finch, 2 David Warner, 3 Steven Smith, 4 Michael Clarke (capt), 5 Shane Watson, 6 Glenn Maxwell, 7 Brad Haddin (wk), 8 James Faulkner, 9 Mitchell Johnson, 10 Mitchell Starc, 11 Pat Cummins/Josh Hazlewood
As the pitch prepared for this match appears tinged with green, seamer Ehsan Adil is more likely to replace Mohammad Irfan than legspinner Yasir Shah. The Pakistan top order is unlikely to change.
Pakistan (probable): 1 Ahmed Shehzad, 2 Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), 3 Haris Sohail, 4 Misbah-ul-Haq (capt.), 5 Umar Akmal, 6 Sohaib Maqsood, 7 Shahid Afridi, 8 Wahab Riaz, 9 Sohail Khan, 10 Rahat Ali, 11 Ehsan Adil/Yasir Shah
Pitch and conditions
Players have already spoken of this year's Adelaide pitch being quicker than usual, and with teams expected to be greeted by a layer of grass on the surface on Friday, it might become more seamer-friendly still. The pitch was covered by hessian on the eve of the match, presumably to retain its moisture, and the surrounding pitches have also been watered, which suggests reverse-swing may not play a major role. The weather is expected to remain fine through the day, with a high of 28 degrees forecast.
Stats and trivia
- Mitchell Starc is the World Cup's second-highest wicket-taker, with 16 scalps at an average of 8.50. Wahab Riaz is two wickets behind, but has an average of 22.42
- There have been eight World Cup encounters between these teams, each having won half of those. Pakistan won the most recent of those encounters, in Colombo, in 2011.
- Of the batsmen from these teams, only Misbah is among the tournament's top 10 run-scorers so far. He has 316 runs at 52.66.
"I think Pakistan have been underrated for a long time, especially in the shorter form of the game. I think they've got a lot of talent. I think their attack is very good and they've shown that throughout this series."
"When you're playing more games at a certain venue you really just adapt to the conditions and know how the pitch will play, how the boundaries are, how the ground dimensions are. That can really help you."
Misbah-ul-Haq on already having played two World Cup matches at Adelaide Oval
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando