Red-hot Pakistan take on underdogs Australia in WC semi-final tonight

Pakistan have its bases covered as they’re the only team who was still unbeaten in the tournament: Australian captain admits Babar Azam’s side has been brilliant in powerplays: It’s rare Aussies are now underdogs against Pakistan

By: News Desk      Published: 11:57 AM, 11 Nov, 2021
Red-hot Pakistan take on underdogs Australia in WC semi-final tonight
File photo.

The Pakistan cricket team have girded up all their loins and firing on all cylinders as they face a formidable challenge from Australia in the second semi-final of the ICC T20 World Cup being played at Dubai International Stadium tonight at 7:00 pm (PST).

While Pakistan are heading into the last four stage having won all of their Super 12 stage, including wins over India and New Zealand, Australia lost comprehensively to England before making the semis. Aaron Finch believes Pakistan’s approach in the ‘powerplay overs’ has been key to their success.

It is not often that the Australian cricket heads into a World Cup knockout game as an underdog. But come Thursday (November 11), Aaron Finch’s team will be the underdogs against Babar Azam’s side in the second semi-final of the T20 World Cup 2021.

Renewed Pakistan focus

Pakistani skipper Babar Azam and his opening partner Muhammad Rizwan hit the ground running at the World Cup with an unbroken 152-run stand as Pakistan trounced India in Dubai by 10 wickets -- their first win over their arch-rivals in 13 World Cup matches.

"We will try to continue with the kind of consistency that we have shown in the tournament so far and hope to play good cricket in the semi-finals," said Babar who has four half-centuries in five innings.

Inside the Pakistan camp is Matthew Hayden, the former Australia opener who is the team's batting coach. Hayden sees the partnership between skipper Babar Azam, the leading run-maker at the World Cup ahead of the semi-finals with 264, and Mohammad Rizwan as key.

"They are very independent players with their own styles but that blend and mix make for the perfect combination. They are unique," explained Hayden.

On facing Australia, Babar said: "You can't take any team lightly in T20 cricket. You have to play good cricket on that day."

Pakistan have got a finisher in Asif Ali who hit four sixes off Afghanistan bowler Karim Janat to get his team the required 25 runs in the penultimate over of their Super 12 clash.

Veteran batsmen Shoaib Malik, who hit an 18-ball 54 in his side's last pool win over Scotland, and Mohammad Hafeez add experience to the batting order. And with Shaheen Shah Afridi in threatening form with the new ball, the 2009 champions seem to have their bases covered.

But former Pakistan speedster Shoaib Akhtar warned the side of complacency in their knockout contest.

"Forget the Super 12 now, just use the momentum but go into semis with a renewed focus," Akhtar wrote on Twitter.

Powerplay prowess

“Pakistan are in great form at the moment and played great cricket to remain unbeaten through the Super 12 stage. Pakistan approach in the powerplay overs – both batting and bowling has been crucial to their success,” Finch said during the virtual media interaction ahead of the second semifinal on Thursday.

“Doing well if the powerplay with both bat and ball are essential to success in this world. Shaheen Shah Afridi has been in brilliant form but getting runs on the board will be beneficial for both teams in a knockout game,” the Australian skipper felt.

Like Pakistan, Australia will also rely on their pace bowling trio of Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins although leg-spinner Adam Zampa has been one of the leading wicket-takers for Finch’s side with 11 scalps in the T20 World Cup.

“Pakistan spinners like Imad Wasim in the powerplay overs and Shadab Khan in the middle-overs have been impressive but Zampa has been getting good players out throughout this tournament. Cummins, Hazlewood and Starc have been excellent for us and I am very happy how they have kept up the pressure on the opposition,” Finch said.

Australia’s path to the semis has been made simpler with the return to form for Finch’s opening partner – David Warner. After a modest IPL 2021, where Warner was benched by the Sunrisers Hyderabad due to his poor form, the Aussie southpaw has bounced back brilliantly – scoring 187 runs in five matches with two fifties and a strike-rate of over 144.

“I was never worried about Warner’s form. He’s one of Australia’s all-time great players. The two halves of the IPL 2021 were months apart, so it was not a fair indication of a player’s form. But it is great to see the best of him again,” Finch said about Warner.

Pakistan side will also have Australian aide in their support staff with former opener Matthew Hayden helping Babar Azam & Co. as the batting coach. “I have seen Hayden around the team hotel since yesterday. It is great to see some Aussie legends crossing over and helping out other sides as well,” Finch said.

The Aussies made their first semi-final of the tournament since 2012 with four wins and a better run-rate than South Africa. But they are up against an unbeaten Pakistan who made into the final four with five wins in the Super 12 stage including their first ever in the tournament against rivals India.

All-rounder Glenn Maxwell said the Australian batsmen will not hold back and go for the runs to unsettle the Pakistan attack led by left-arm quick Shaheen Shah Afridi. "I've seen teams go the other way and try and hold wickets back to make sure they get to go at the back end," said Maxwell.

"But for us it's probably that playing with freedom at the start and really trying to make the most of the powerplay and put the opposition on the back foot."

Zampa is the tournament's joint second-highest wicket-taker with 11 victims but the 29-year-old has gone about his business under the radar.

"I don't think that anyone has underrated him," insisted Finch of Zampa who claimed a tournament-best return of 5-19 against Bangladesh in Dubai. "He's someone who loves the competitiveness, loves the fight."

In the spotlight

Shaheen Shah Afridi against Australia's top order might well be the match-up that decides the fate of this semi-final. It's bizarre to make this a point of criticism, but with Pakistan plugging holes and ticking boxes so effectively, every straw must be grasped at. Since Afridi cemented his status as the king of first overs with an opening spell for the ages against India, he has managed just one wicket in his opening spell across the remaining four games, and none in his first over. It feels especially mean-spirited to point this out, particularly since that hasn't stopped Shaheen from enjoying a phenomenally successful tournament; aside from an off day against Namibia, he hasn't once conceded more than a run-a-ball since the opening game.

Alongside Pakistan, Australia are perhaps the most top-heavy side this tournament; 402 of the 640 runs they have scored this tournament have come from the top three. The only two occasions the middle order was forced to bat came against South Africa and England, and Australia struggled to pile on the runs. If Afridi can make inroads against Finch, David Warner and Mitchell Marsh early on, Pakistan's bowlers should fancy their chances against the men that follow, especially since having limited competitive match practice isn't the best preparation to facing this Pakistan bowling attack. Equally, though, should Australia see off Afridi's first spell, as each of New Zealand, Namibia and Scotland managed to do, then Pakistan find themselves up against an opposition far more adept than those three at taking advantage of wickets in hand.

Team news

Australia have a balancing problem with their squad, at times preferring the extra seam bowler, and others one more spinner. They do seem to have settled on their combination, though, and should be unchanged.

Australia (probable): 1 David Warner 2 Aaron Finch (capt) 3 Mitchell Marsh 4 Steve Smith 5 Glenn Maxwell 6 Marcus Stoinis 7 Matthew Wade (wk) 8 Pat Cummins 9 Mitchell Starc 10 Adam Zampa 11 Josh Hazlewood

It has never been easier to predict Pakistan's line-up; they are the only side in the semi-finals to have made no changes to their starting eleven. With five wins in five, they are not about to start now.

Pakistan (probable): 1 Babar Azam (capt) 2 Mohammad Rizwan (wk) 3 Fakhar Zaman 4 Mohammad Hafeez/Haider Ali 5 Shoaib Malik 6 Asif Ali 7 Shadab Khan 8 Imad Wasim 9 Hasan Ali/Mohammad Nawaz 10 Haris Rauf 11 Shaheen Shah Afridi

Pitch and conditions

The pitch to be used for the semi-final has seen three previous uses, with the evidence suggesting it should be good for batting. Dew, though could be a factor, making the toss especially important.

Stats and trivia

·  Australia have won all four ICC knockout games against Pakistan: the 1987 World Cup semi-final, the 1999 World Cup final, the 2010 T20 World Cup semi-final and the 2015 World Cup quarter-final.

·  Pakistan have won 16 consecutive T20Is in the UAE. The last time they lost was in a Super Over against England in Sharjah in November 2015.

·  The three highest Australian T20I run scorers and the two highest wicket-takers are all part of Australia's current squad. Finch, Warner and Maxwell lead the run charts, while Zampa and Starc have taken the most wickets.