It’s the knockout stage of the world cup and no one will be guaranteed a free pass ahead and especially not when the most unpredictable team in the cricket world takes on a well-oiled Aussie machine. Come 20 of March, Adelaide oval will be packed into a sea of yellow and green and only one set of supporters will go back home with a glee on their face.
Pakistan has so far lived up to its tag of being unpredictable and is peaking at the right time leading into the qualifiers. It is a country where cricket and nationalism go side by side putting immense pressure on their players. The trash talk of so-called experts on the television doesn’t help in providing the players any relief where everything is ultra analyzed under the microscope.
The big question in the mind of everybody who supports green shirts is whether they will emulate Imran Khan’s 1992 world cup winning team. Can they come up trumps against the mighty Aussies? If history is any indication, they don’t need to look long back, they dismantled South Africa at the same venue, couple of weeks ago. Their bowling strength came to fore in that game and showed how good they are in defending any total. Furthermore, Adelaide is probably the only ground in Australia, where teams from Asia fancy their chances.
In a quartet of pace bowling attack, Pakistan seemed to have found the right balance after an uncertain start in the first two games. Wahab Riaz has been a revelation for Pakistan in this tournament. His ability to bowl quickly has revived old memories of Pakistani fast bowlers who had batsmen jumping. Sohail Khan and Rahat Ali have been consistent, effective and complementary. The unfortunate loss of Irfan to a stress fracture means Ehsan Adil will retain his place forming the last piece of the pace quartet. All Pakistanis will be praying for their fielding to perform better than it has done so far in the tournament. They cannot afford to put down any chance given by aggressive Aussies.
Pakistan is the only team who managed to get a semblance of reverse swing in this tournament and especially at this particular venue. But come the match day, one can expect a lush green outfield supporting the hosts and it will be tougher to get reverse swing.
Pakistan batting as usual has been the inconsistent paradigm of their game. Misbah is the man they look up to when in need and he was in desperate need of more support after the first two games. Help duly arrived with the return of Sarfraz into the team who showed what a dodgy fighter he his, reviving memories of another such character Javed Miandad. Him being a natural wicketkeeper also rescued Pakistan from horrendous drops behind the stumps by Umar Akmal who was forced to keep wickets in a flawed selection policy. A lot is expected from Ahmad Shahzad and Umar Akmal and for these youngsters there is no better venue or time to show that they belong to the big stage. Afridi on a given day can be dangerous and Pakistanis will be hoping it will be his day on the quarterfinals.
The Aussie bowling has been on song for the last one year and it has come to fore during this world cup. Although every one expected it would be Johnson who will be destructive, it turned out to be another left arm speedster Mitchell Starc who has well and duly arrived at the big stage. His ability to swing at pace has sent shivers down the legs of many a batsmen. Pat Cummins provides the necessary back up muscle bowling consistently over 140 kph and make life difficult for opponents. Watson, Faulkner and Maxwell provide the variety that has made this attack a mean bowling machine.
On the batting front, Australia along with New Zealand have been the most aggressive batting line up. David Warner and Aaron Finch form a dominating pair and when they get going cricket looks way too easy than it is. Smith and Clarke add the solidarity to the middle order and Watson provides the muscle in top order. Glenn Maxwell has made cricket look ridiculous. His ability to play unorthodox shots and clear the ground so easily shows how far cricket has evolved and just shows that Maxwell is the next generation cricket species. In Faulkner they have an amazing finisher who can win them games from hopeless situations. Brad Haddin and rest of the tail are no mugs with the bat and all of them keep ability to significantly contribute when the need arises.
On paper Australia look incredibly strong unit in all the three facets of the game. But cricket is a funny old game, which revels in the unexpected. Aussies will count Pakistan out at their own peril and would like to make sure they bring their A game out. Pakistan on the other hand will hope that Australia will slip up in their basics like they did against the Kiwis in the group stages and provide an opening for their pace battery to win the game for them.
Prediction: This clash between two previous World Cup champions has all the ingredients for a classic. On the bowling front, both teams have comparable artillery, however the men from down under hold a clear edge in batting and given that modern day cricket relies on fielding to a greater extent than at any other point in history, the Aussies will definitely hold the favorites tag going into this match. Australia for the win!