Aus v Pak, Champions Trophy, Group A, Centurion September 29, 2009

Asif in line for comeback as Pakistan ring the changes

Match facts

Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Start time 0930 (0730 GMT)

Big picture

With so many intertwining fortunes, the penultimate Group A match between Pakistan and Australia is shaping as the most absorbing of the tournament to date. Pakistan's victories over West Indies and India have ensured the World Twenty20 champions safe passage through to the semi-finals, and Australia will join them with victory in Centurion.

A Pakistan win, on the other hand, would throw the race for the semis wide open. Monday's wash-out in Centurion may have allowed India to avoid a mountainous run-chase against Australia, but it also placed them in the precarious position of having to rely on other results to advance to the next round. A resounding Pakistan victory over Australia will keep alive the hopes of MS Dhoni's men, but only if India can inflict a heavy defeat on the West Indians at the Wanderers the same day.

Weighing heavily on the Indians' minds will be Australia's recent 3-2 victory over Pakistan in an attritional one-day series played in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. On that occasion, the superior discipline of the Australians proved too much for an out-of-practice Pakistan side although, as punters the world over are aware, form guides are seldom of use when trying to assess Younis Khan's team. That logic is all the more applicable with Pakistan likely to rest a number of first-choice players ahead of the semi-finals, clearing the way for Mohammad Asif to make his return to international cricket after a 19-month absence.

There will presumably be little love lost between Asif and the Australians who, prior to the 2007 World Cup, vented their anger at the PCB for recalling the controversial paceman barely a year after he tested positive to nandrolone. Asif has courted controversy ever since, and will be determined to make the most of what may be his last chance in the international game. A fascinating subplot to an intriguing match.

Form guide

(last five completed matches, most recent first)

Australia - WLWWW
Pakistan - WWWWL

Team news

Australia's Champions Trophy plans are covered in liquid paper, with mainstays Nathan Bracken and Michael Clarke sent home with injury. Clarke's chronic back condition will be causing angst among team medical staff, given the frequency with which it has flared this year (the Twenty20 international against New Zealand in Australia, the lead-up to the Test series in South Africa and now the Champions Trophy). His bowling days may well be numbered as he attempts to manage the injury.

Australia: (probable): 1 Shane Watson, 2 Tim Paine (wk), 3 Ricky Ponting (capt), 4 Michael Hussey, 5 Callum Ferguson, 6 Cameron White, 7 James Hopes, 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 Brett Lee, 10 Nathan Hauritz, 11 Peter Siddle.

Younis Khan is expected to take the field against the Australians on Wednesday, however Imran Nazir, who is also nursing a broken finger, is less likely to play. Younis foreshadowed that Pakistan would seek to give game time to several fringe squad members ahead of the semi-final, singling out Fawad Alam, Iftikhar Anjum and Asif. Asif has not represented Pakistan since he was detained at Dubai airport in June, 2008.

Pakistan: (probable): 1 Shoaib Malik, 2 Kamran Akmal, 3 Younis Khan (capt), 4 Mohammad Yousuf, 5 Fawad Alam, 6 Shahid Afridi, 7 Umar Akmal, 8 Umar Gul, 9 Mohammad Aamer, 10 Saeed Ajmal, 11 Mohammad Asif.

Watch out for...

Shoaib Malik's century against India was the perfect cricketing crescendo. The 183-game veteran managed just a solitary run from his first 13 deliveries, before hitting something near light-speed in the closing stages to effectively bat India out of the contest. Ishant Sharma and Harbhajan Singh might still not know what hit them.

Brett Lee managed express pace and steepling bounce in his sole outing against West Indies, but wickets proved hard to come by. Should he find the right trajectory, Australia's senior fast bowler could prove more than a handful on a Centurion pitch enlivened by recent heavy rain.

Pitch and conditions

    Centurion has been considered the more spin-friendly of the Champions Trophy surfaces thus far, although it remains to be seen whether those characteristics will remain after Monday's match-cancelling deluge. Pakistan will be hoping for a resumption of normal programming, given the difficulty encountered by Australia's batsmen in scoring off the likes of Saeed Ajmal and Shahid Afridi during the recent series in the UAE. The Pakistan spin combination have taken a combined seven wickets at the Champions Trophy to date at barely four runs-per-over, and are again looming as potent strike weapons.

    Stats and trivia

    • Australia have won nine of their last 12 ODIs against Pakistan, including a 3-2 series victory in their most recent series in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

    • As of Tuesday morning, Saeed Ajmal was the best-performed spinner at the Champions Trophy with four wickets at 11.75. His economy rate is 3.66.

    • Ricky Ponting has been in imposing form since arriving in South Africa. He has scored half-centuries in both of Australia's pool matches against West Indies and India at an average of 72.

    Quotes

    "This Trophy was originally scheduled to be held in Pakistan. We were the real hosts. My nation wants it back and we are ready to give our hundred percent to get it back for the country."
    Younis Khan after Pakistan's emphatic victory over India.

    "Our batsmen played well [against India] so that's really good going into the Pakistan match, where there will surely be two spinners playing. [Michael] Hussey and [Tim] Paine played the spinners very well against India and that augers well for the upcoming match. [Saeed] Ajmal and [Shahid] Afridi are quality spinners. Yes they did well against us in Abu Dhabi and Dubai but we are up for it."
    Ricky Ponting on the challenge posed by Pakistan's spinners.

    Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo