Australia vs Pakistan | Friday 20 March | Adelaide | 05:30
The Australians touched down for preparation in Adelaide around the same time that Pakistan were booking their place in the knockout stage. The competitive streak that exists between these two cricketing giants will no doubt ensure a fascinating encounter. Unpredictable, erratic, schizophrenic. These are all words commonly used to describe Pakistan and the way that they go about the game. Often such monikers can inspire dread in opponents rather than confidence. Australia simply do not know which Pakistan will pitch up in Adelaide. They’ll be aware that if it is the same one that was practically breathing fire in their beating of South Africa, Australia will be in for a long evening.
To Win Match
It was not long ago that Australia were in the UAE, cruising to a 3-0 ODI series victory over their opponents. Admittedly Pakistan conspired to lose the final fixture from a relatively commanding position but the Australians were clearly the better side throughout the tour. The problem is that Pakistan are seriously dangerous. The consolation is that Pakistan are also a danger to themselves. Patience will be key for the Australian side in this knockout fixture, as Pakistan will always offer up chances for their opponents to get into the game. If the Australians take these opportunities they should have no problems disposing of their subcontinental counterparts and booking a place in the next round. Let such opportunities slip and it could well be a perilous afternoon for the home side.
The biggest positive for Australia is the amazing balance they have found within the side. An aggressive opening partnership, Warner at his belligerent best, gives way to cool-headed Steve Smith. Michael Clarke is another middle-order anchor. Shane Watson, orchestrating a resurgence in form at number five, gives way to Glenn Maxwell who is all firepower. James Faulkner appears after Brad Haddin and can provide a monumental upswing in momentum with his power-hitting. Bowlers Mitchell Johnson and Mitchell Starc can also wield willow effectively. With the ball, Johnson is slowly starting to find his rhythm as a first-change while Starc has been a revelation bowling at the death. It is very tough to earmark a weakness in this Australian side. One might be tempted to view their batting collapse against New Zealand as a symptom of a greater problem, but every side is entitled to one blip on their way to a trophy. It seems unlikely such an abject performance with the bat will occur again.
In contrast, Pakistan’s weaknesses are laid out plainly for all to see. Their batting, especially when chasing, can be labelled shaky at best while they are often quite lacklustre in the field. Their bowling attack is a clear strong suit and if the fielders back that up, sides find it very tough to squeeze runs out of Pakistan. Bowling has always been Pakistan’s preference and it is the hope that Sohail Khan, Wahab Riaz and Rahat Ali can dominate to the extent that it takes their nation all the way to the trophy. Due to the much spoken about new laws, the ability for sides to contain batsmen, especially at the death, has become severely limited. Pakistan have been quicker than most to realise that picking up wickets is the only way to stop sides motoring through the final fifteen overs and it is here than Pakistan’s death operators have excelled.
Mohammad Irfan will play no further part in the World Cup due to injury, which probably serves to uncomplicate the Pakistani selection process. Misbah-ul-Haq continues to play the rock in his side’s middle-order and his contribution, as always, will be vitally important. Pakistan will probably be ruing the decision to omit wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed in the opening matches due to his poor form in New Zealand. He is scoring runs at the top of the order and seems to possess the grit required to see him through difficult patches. In spite of all of Pakistan’s explosive game-changers they remain a dodgy unit precariously reliant on their bowling exploits. They could well be the end of road for cricket’s spirited nomads.
The Adelaide Oval will host this important knockout fixture, home ground advantage obviously suiting the Australian outfit. Pakistan have only ever beaten Australia once at the Adelaide Oval in their entire ODI history, way back in 1996. They lost to India at the ground in their opening World Cup match but recovered to cruise to victory against Ireland most recently. The weather is unlikely to disturb proceedings.
VERDICT: Australia 1/4
Australia are resounding favourites and I can’t help but feel that it will take something monumental to stop them from going all the way to the final. Pakistan definitely possess a truly unpredictable quality, capable of the sublime one minute and the atrocious the next. While World Cup knockout matches can indeed be decided on individual performances, the Australians seem more likely to keep their nerve.