Thursday will provide cricket fans across the globe with just enough time to catch their breath following India’s dramatic one-run win against Bangladesh on Wednesday evening before we’re back at it again.
Friday will see two massive games in the context of the tournament. Australia will take on Pakistan in an absolute must-win game for both sides before South Africa square off against an explosive West Indian XI.
Australia 9/20 | Draw 35/1 | Pakistan 18/10
Australia followed their disappointing defeat to New Zealand with a tense three-wicket win against Bangladesh on Monday evening. There were again question marks surrounding the Australian side’s ability to challenge for the World T20 title with only Usman Khawaja and Adam Zampa putting in performances that caught the eye.
It’s too late for the Aussies to make any changes to a squad that doesn’t really look capable of making it to the semi-finals, let alone winning the competition. They absolutely have to beat Pakistan if they are to stand any realistic chance of making it through to the semi-finals. Failure to do so will mean that their passage into the next round will not rest solely in their hands.
My biggest issue with this Australian side is their temperament – especially late in their batting innings. Just look at their shambolic final few overs against Bangladesh. They made an absolute meal of their chase against Bangladesh with Maxwell losing head and charging Shakib Al Hasan. He failed to get to the pitch of the ball and was easily stumped by Mushfiqur Rahim. Big Jon Hastings came in next and threw his wicket away trying to hit the winning runs with a six. In the end, the Aussies limped over the line with three wickets to spare.
Their bowling wasn't particularly good either, with only Zampa and Shane Watson really troubling the Bangladeshi batsmen. Nathan Coulter-Nile was economical without really being threatening. Hastings, Maxwell, Mitchell Marsh and James Faulkner struggled a bit and never really looked like picking up any wickets. That will need to change against a dangerous Pakistan side who can decimate weaker bowling attacks on their day.
The Australians real strength lies in their top order. Watson, Khawaja, Steve Smith and David Warner will need to be at their best against Irfan and co on Friday. The latter two haven’t really lived up to expectations thus far and will be looking for improved performances. Neither have made any telling contributions with the bat, and with Aaron Finch waiting in the wings, they will need to step up big time on Friday afternoon or one of them is likely to face the axe.
Pakistan absolutely have to win this game if they are to stand any chance of making it through to the semi-finals of the World T20. They’ve only managed a solitary win against Bangladesh, going down to India and New Zealand.
Sharjeel Khan is likely to keep his place in the side following his excellent 25-ball 47 against the Black Caps last time out. He will partner up with Ahmed Shehzad, who surprised a lot of people with his performance against Bangladesh in Pakistan’s first game of the tournament. Since then, however, he’s gone back into his shell quite a bit. While he made decent scores against India and New Zealand, he failed to score at better than a run a ball on both occasions.
They struggled without the calming influence of Mohammad Hafeez last time out. After Sharjeel’s initial onslaught, nobody in the top and middle order managed to put on a substantial score which once again highlights why Pakistan are considered one of the worst full member nations when it comes to batting second in T20 Internationals. In fairness to them, they were bogged down by yet another fantastic bowling display from Kane Williamson’s men.
Verdict: Pakistan 18/10
With Mohammad Hafeez and Wahab Riaz coming back into the side, Pakistan look a different prospect. Australia have a stronger squad on paper, however, I feel that Pakistan certainly do have enough quality to cause a surprise. They look good value at 18/10, back them!
South Africa 6/10 | Draw 35/1 | West Indies 27/20
The second match of the day will see the Proteas go head to head the West Indies. South Africa are another side that absolutely must win on Friday if they are to keep their semi-final hopes alive. The West Indies, on the other hand, could book their place in the next round with a win over Faf du Plessis' men.
South Africa have had a bit of a strange tournament thus far. They’ve been absolutely magnificent with the bat, scoring over 200 runs in their two games. However, their bowling – and in particular, the seamers – have come in for some serious punishment against England and Afghanistan. The only quick to return decent figures for the Proteas in the tournament has been Chris Morris, who bagged 4-27 against Afghanistan on Sunday. Kagiso Rabada, Kyle Abbott, Dale Steyn and David Wiese have all offered opposition batsmen far too much width – especially in the powerplay overs where the fielding side can only have two men positioned outside of the ring.
Surely Aaron Phangiso will now get a run in the side at the expense of Abbott or Rabada. To say the Lions’ off-spinner has been under-utilised by the Proteas over the last few years is an understatement. In these Sub-Continent conditions where spin is king, going into a crucial match with only one recognised spinner would be suicide.
It’s not been all doom and gloom for the Proteas though. Their top order has been absolutely outstanding with Quinton de Kock in particular showing just what an asset he is to South African cricket. There have also been encouraging performances from Hashim Amla AB de Villiers, David Miller and Faf du Plessis.
JP Duminy remains a doubt for this game after pulled up with a hamstring strain against Afghanistan on Sunday. His ability with bat and ball will be sorely missed as he was just starting to show the form that thrust him into the international limelight a few years ago. His place is likely to be taken by Rilee Rossouw while Phangiso should come into the side for Abbott or Rabada.
The West Indies won their opening two games of the tournament with relative ease, chasing down both England’s and Sri Lanka’s totals with minimal fuss. Chris Gayle and Andre Fletcher have both set the competition alight with their knocks and will be looking for more of the same against a wounded South African bowling attack.
There will be concerns over how little the middle and lower order have had to do in this tournament so far. If Gayle, Fletcher and Marlon Samuels fail at the top of the innings, can guys like Darren Sammy, Andre Russell and Dwayne Bravo propel the West Indies to a competitive total?
Another area of the West Indies’ game that has looked strong throughout the tournament has been their spin options. Samuel Badree and Sulieman Benn were absolutely world class against the Sri Lankans, conceding only 25 runs between them in eight overs. A similar performance against the Proteas could well see them swing the game in favour of the West Indies.
Verdict: South Africa to hit the most fours 9/10
The South Africans have been absolutely magnificent with bat in hand during the tournament, and I don’t see why that will change too much, even with a more bowler-friendly wicket in Nagpur. The likes of Quinton de Kock and Hashim Amla have shown that they can pierce the gaps almost at will during the power play overs and with some explosive batting lower down the order, the South Africans look excellent value here at 9/10.