Thursday December 08, 2022

June 13, 2017

Pakistan promise their ‘best’ to conquer mighty England

CARDIFF, Wales: When Pakistan fell against India in their Champions Trophy mismatch at Edgbaston, it seemed that they were doomed for an early flight back home. But things have fallen in place for them. First, Birmingham rain helped them a bit against South Africa though a 19-run win at Edgbaston was primarily earned by Pakistan’s bowling attack.

Then on Monday at Sophia Gardens, Pakistan’s pace battery clicked though in the end it were the butter-fingered Sri Lankan spinners, who allowed their opposition to go through to the ICC Champions Trophy semi-finals.

On Wednesday, Pakistan face England, perhaps one of the most destructive teams ever in limited-overs cricket. Pakistan have announced their ambitions of playing in the Champions Trophy final on Sunday.

Mickey Arthur, Pakistan’s coach said his team will not settle for anything less. But can they do it? On paper, it appears to be a lop-sided contest. While Pakistan struggle to even score 250 runs, England have a knack for posting big totals.

Last August at Trent Bridge, England put their potent batting arsenal on display when they hammered a record 444 against Pakistan in an ODI, winning it by 169 runs. Alex Hales struck a record 171 and Jos Buttler made England's fastest ever 50 from 22 balls.

England surpassed the 443-9 posted by Sri Lanka against the Netherlands in 2006.

The bad news for Pakistan is that England have evolved into an even better side than they were last year. Virat Kohli, India’s captain, recently commented that England “have no weaknesses” especially in home conditions. Sarfraz Ahmed, Pakistan’s captain, has also conceded that England are “a very, very good team.” So how do you beat a team that has the world’s best batting line-up, a great bowling attack and is now one of the best fielding sides in the world.

“By playing your best game,” says Mickey Arthur, Pakistan’s head coach. “If we play our best game then we will put them under pressure. From then on it’s all about capitalising on the points you score,” he explained.

Pakistan’s best chance of putting England under pressure is though their bowlers. Cardiff has become a bit of a happy hunting ground for Pakistan considering that they beat England against the run of play last year and more recently overcame Sri Lanka in a tense Champions Trophy game on Monday.

Pakistan-England semi-final will be played on the same Sophia Gardens pitch that was used for the Pakistan-Sri Lanka game. It is expected to be a bright, sunny day which means that both the wicket and weather conditions should favour the batsmen. But the problem for Pakistan is that their batsmen have yet to fire in the tournament. Azhar Ali and Fakhar Zaman have managed to provide some stability at the top of the order but the middle-order has been in disarray.

That’s why Pakistan could reshuffle the batting order and are pondering the idea of promoting skipper Sarfraz Ahmed and Shoaib Malik ahead of the likes of Mohammad Hafeez, who has flopped with the bat in the recent past. The big question for Pakistan is whether they will be able to fix their batting woes in time for the game against England.

Pakistan’s bowlers have delivered two wins in a row and remain their best bet against England as well. Mohammad Amir, after two wicketless outings, was in his element against Sri Lanka with Hasan Ali and Junaid Khan also delivering the goods.

England, however, know how to deal with good pace attacks. They have won 12 of the last 14 ODIs against Pakistan, stretching back to their series-deciding win in a memorable encounter at the Ageas Bowl in September 2010.

But the hosts, too, have a few issues to settle before the semi-final. They face the decision to drop opener Jason Roy, who has just 51 runs in eight ODI innings this season. England are expected to bring in the in-form Jonny Bairstow. Though he has never opened in ODIs, Bairstow did make 174 as an opener for Yorkshire against Durham in a domestic 50-over match this season.

It shouldn’t be a big worry for England, who have great depth in their batting line-up with the likes of Eoin Morgan, Alex Hales, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler. England have troubled many of their rivals with their bowling attack that includes spin twins Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali.

Pakistan, however, are confident of dealing with England’s spin. Its England’s batting that must be giving them nightmares.

Teams (likely):Pakistan: Azhar Ali, Fakhar Zaman, Babar Azam, Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik, Sarfraz Ahmed (captain), Imad Wasim, Mohammad Amir, Shadab Khan, Hasan Ali, Junaid Khan.

England: Alex Hales, Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root, Eoin Morgan (captain), Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler (wk), Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid, Liam Plunkett, Mark Wood, Jake Ball.