POOL B | Saturday 07 March | Auckland | 03:00
A record-breaking Proteas side meets a thoroughly unpredictable Pakistan in what will be a Pool B crunch clash for the subcontinental hopefuls. While South Africa’s exploits against the lesser nations (West Indies included) have underlined their ability to lift the trophy at the end of the month, it is nothing less than is expected for side packed with the quality that South Africa possesses. This will be the last match of a tough run of fixtures for Pakistan, who are expected to oust the UAE on Wednesday in the lead up to this encounter. If all goes to plan they should still qualify for the quarter-finals and will draw upon the remarkable turnaround exacted by Imran Khan’s charges in 1992.
To Win Match
South Africa 2/9
The subcontinental nomads play three games in three cities in the space of seven days, not ideal scheduling for a World Cup stretching six weeks. Perhaps they will be exhausted by the time they reach Auckland, or perhaps they will thrive in the frantic nature of it all. That’s the problem with Pakistan; it is very difficult to tell how they will react to hardship or indeed, whether their talent finds a voice on any given day. Captain Misbah-ul-Haq has been made to field some tough questions since Pakistan’s poor start against India and subsequent loss to the West Indies. He is by far the most stable presence in the schizophrenic side and his record with the bat attests to that. He is also of the best and fittest fielders in the side at the age of forty, a situation that will no doubt frustrate the elder statesman. Their batting has been a big problem in this tournament, especially the top order. They have a highest opening partnership of 11 after three matches. They will be hoping to turn this around against minnows UAE and meet South Africa with some semblance of form. Pakistan’s positives lie in their bowling attack. Mohammad Irfan is going for only 4.40 runs in the power plays, they have spinners capable of troubling any batsman and Wahab Riaz became the first Pakistani to score a fifty and take four wickets in a World Cup match. The problem for Pakistan is trying to balance five bowlers with a brittle top order.
Auckland is the smallest ground in the World Cup with none of the boundaries much longer than 65 metres. Neither of the two sides have played there in the tournament as yet and neither have excessive previous experience at the ground. The pitch has only hosted one World Cup match so far, a scintillating contest between New Zealand and Australia which saw the hosts scrape through with one wicket intact. Australia were bowled out for 151 and New Zealand battled to get there. Despite the small size, the swing and seam on offer can trouble batting line-ups.
VERDICT: South Africa 2/9
The Proteas have been very, very impressive of late. This will be a bigger test for them, having slumped to an insipid loss in their last subcontinental contest against India. The ground and conditions should suit their side, particularly Dale Steyn. If the ball begins to move through the air in Auckland, one expects Pakistan will be finished. Back the Proteas to come through with the victory.