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Tactics board: Rauf vs Conway, Pakistan's weakness against offspin, and more

Sydney has seen all but one match won batting first this World Cup, with pace and spin both playing their respective roles

Gaurav Sundararaman and Sampath Bandarupalli
In T20Is, Haris Rauf has dismissed Devon Conway four times in just 27 balls  •  Joe Allison/Getty Images

In T20Is, Haris Rauf has dismissed Devon Conway four times in just 27 balls  •  Joe Allison/Getty Images

New Zealand and Pakistan will be meeting for a record sixth time in the semi-finals of a global T20I or ODI tournament. Pakistan have so far taken the honours three times, while New Zealand have won twice. Can New Zealand settle scores by beating Pakistan in the semi-final of this year's T20 World Cup?
While New Zealand have benefitted from strong performances by their top-order batters and spinners, Pakistan have managed to win games thanks to their lower and middle order. Here's a look at some of the factors that could play a key role in the semi-final.
What can we expect in Sydney?
No venue has benefitted the teams batting first in this T20 World Cup more than Sydney: five of the six matches played here have been won by the team batting first. The only successful chase in Sydney was by England, who were set 142 by Sri Lanka, to seal a spot in the semi-final.
Despite scoring 70 runs in the powerplay, England got to the target with only two balls to spare, suggesting how tricky the conditions here have been for the teams batting second. The first five matches in Sydney had first-innings totals of more than 160, and four were won by a margin of 50-plus runs. Pace bowlers have had more success at the venue, picking up 52 wickets at a strike rate of 16.1; but spinners have been more economical, going at only 6.83 runs per over.
Will New Zealand be tempted to play Michael Bracewell?
Pakistan's batters have contrasting record against offspin. While Mohammad Haris, Shadab Khan and Shan Masood have a good record against this type of bowling, the opening pair of Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan doesn't strike well against offspinners. And so it could be an interesting battle for Pakistan against an offspinner who is yet to play a game in this World Cup.
Bracewell had a great tri-series against Pakistan just before the World Cup. He did not concede a single boundary in the 54 balls he bowled while giving away just 31 runs. Will New Zealand gamble by playing Bracewell in an all-important match?
Hard length the way to go against Pakistan batters
The hard length has been the preference for pace bowlers against Pakistan in this World Cup: 50.25% of balls by them against Pakistan in the tournament have been pitched short-of-a-good length or short. That is the most any team has faced since the start of the Super 12s. Pakistan lost six wickets to the hard length against India in their first game. They averaged 13.92 against those lengths, the second worst in the Super 12s behind Zimbabwe's 10.42. Both Pakistan and Zimbabwe lost 14 wickets facing the hard length, the most by any team.
Incidentally, New Zealand's usage of hard lengths have been the lowest in the tournament. Only 38.60% of the balls bowled by their pace bowlers have been short-of-a-good length or beyond, the lowest of the 12 teams during the Super 12s. But New Zealand's pace bowlers could look to change their strategy considering the weakness Pakistan have against these lengths.
Match-ups to watch out
Haris Rauf vs Devon Conway
Conway started this tournament on a high, scoring an unbeaten 92 against Australia. But since then, he has got just 32 runs in three innings. Against Pakistan, Conway will be up against his nemesis Rauf: in T20Is, Rauf has dismissed him four times in just 27 balls, off which Conway has managed only 29 runs. However, two of those dismissals were in the last four overs of the innings. But in a World Cup semi-final, will Pakistan look to bowl Rauf early on to get rid of Conway?
Pakistan batters vs Ish Sodhi
Expect the middle overs to be a crucial phase of the game in Sydney. New Zealand's spin duo of Sodhi and Mitchell Santner have played a key role in their team's success so far in this competition, and so Pakistan trying to go after one of them could be crucial for them to claim an advantage.
Sodhi's spell in Sydney could be a decisive factor in the way the semi-final progresses. Most of the Pakistan batters have a superior record against Sodhi, but New Zealand shouldn't be surprised if Pakistan promote Shadab to No. 4 to counter the legspinner's threat. Across T20Is, Shadab has scored 55 runs against Sodhi from just 23 balls, including five sixes.
Finn Allen vs Shaheen Shah Afridi
Allen's strike rate of 158.89 in powerplay in T20Is is the highest for any batter since 2021 with a minimum of 100 balls faced. He started off this T20 World Cup with 42 off 16 balls against Australia, which laid the foundation for New Zealand's victory.
However, Allen's struggles in the powerplay have mainly come against left-arm seam. In T20Is, he has been dismissed seven times against that variety of bowling - all of those wickets have come in the powerplay - as he has scored just 83 runs at 11.85 runs per dismissal. Thus, having gone after Mitchell Starc against Australia, it would be interesting to see what Allen decides to do against Afridi.