Champions Trophy SF 1: England vs Pakistan Preview

Batsman hits ball

Pakistan will be looking to cause another massive upset when they take on England in the first semi-final of the Champions Trophy. 

The lowest ranked team at the Champions Trophy, Pakistan have defied expectation by beating South Africa and Sri Lanka en route to Wednesday's showdown with England.

The tournament hosts, meanwhile, have comfortably obliged anticipation - and are under severe pressure to ensure victories over Australia, New Zealand and Bangladesh don't amount to nothing.

England v Pakistan | Wednesday, 13 June 2017 | Sophia Gardens, Cardiff | 11:30

To Win Match
England 1/3 | Tie 35/1 | Pakistan 5/2

England
Runners-up in 2004 and 2013, England seem better positioned than yesteryear to clinch a maiden title. Before facing India or Bangladesh in the final, however, they will need to overcome a spirited Pakistan unit, who have defied plenty of odds this month. This tantalising showdown, too, has been reserved for a neutral venue, of sorts, as Wales prepares for a cracking contest.

The last time the teams met in ODI cricket was also at Sophia Gardens, in September 2016, when a fine four-wicket haul from seamer Hasan Ali and wicketkeeper-batsman Sarfraz Ahmed's near century ensured a tight win for the tourists. Fittingly, Ali and Ahmed will again be the in-form pair to combat in front of a Cardiff crowd completed by thousands of Pakistan supporters.

Ali and, particularly, Ahmed - embodied Pakistan's fight against Sri Lanka. England can't afford to let captain Ahmed get on top of them again, though they do sport substantially stronger bowling options than what seamers David Willey and Chris Jordan had to offer eight months ago. Despite the absence of the injured Chris Woakes, new-ball duo Jake Ball and Mark Wood are tough prospects.

Batting-wise, it will be a really tough argument for the English to stick with opener Jason Roy. The desperately out-of-form Roy has managed a mere 51 runs in his last eight ODI innings - and was hampered by a general lack of game time for the Gujarat Lions during April and May's Indian Premier League. The enterprising Sam Billings or Jonny Bairstow should replace Roy.

The only team not from the sub-continent in this week's final four, England have plenty to prove in their own backyard, amid several odds pointing plenty of punters toward an English title. Again, so much will ride on the shoulders of captain Eoin Morgan - and talismanic all-rounder Ben Stokes. Failure for either, one surmises, will be the exact 'in' required by Pakistan.

Pakistan
Losing semi-finalists in 2000, 2004 and 2009, Wednesday will bring the sub-continental underachievers a fourth opportunity to shrug off premature Champions Trophy exits of the past - and set in place a solid post-Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq future. Their young bucks are thriving - and a tournament title, or at least a top-four finish - will do wonders for their confidence.

The zeal and steel displayed during the closing throes of Monday's triumph over Sri Lanka was remarkable. So very un-Pakistan, who largely capitulate at the first sign of trouble, the performance might have sparked greater things to come. It, too, may have been all too much - and won't allow them to give it their all 48 hours later.

Indeed, the turnaround is short, but they don't have to change venues - and will relish another match in conditions that played right into their seamers' hands at the start of the week. From left-arm Mohammad Amir's superb swing and Ali's taxing pace to debutant Fahim Ashraf's nagging lines and spinner Imad Wasim's challenging lengths, the collective performance was a veritable master class against the Sri Lankans.

The fact that Pakistan were willing to blood a debutant in such a crucial fixture spoke volumes of their burgeoning confidence. Ahmed's insistence at the start of the tournament that the team had 'nothing to lose', though, has - after wins over South Africa and Sri Lanka - quickly been replaced by there being plenty on the line.

ODI victories for Pakistan over England have been few and far between this decade - just two wins in 14 attempts, in fact. September 2016's victory in Cardiff - coupled with the highs of Monday's victory at the same venue - might just be the inspiration a team highly reliant on emotion need to triumph again, though.

Verdict: Pakistan 5/2
An immense amount of pressure now sits with England, despite Morgan's attempts to play it down entirely, while Pakistan are still relatively free of such stress - and could capitalise on the opposition's top billing and Monday's momentum boost.

Written by Jonhenry Wilson for @Hollywoodbets.net

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