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PREVIEW: Unpredictable Pakistan meet ‘favourites’ England in Semis
ICC Champions Trophy

PREVIEW: Unpredictable Pakistan meet ‘favourites’ England in Semis

The road till here

After a nerve-wrecking match against Sri Lanka, Pakistan scraped through to their fourth Champions Trophy semi-final. Little by little, they are starting to find their feet in this tournament. Their opponents, an emphatic England team remains unbeaten in this year’s Champions Trophy. With very little going wrong for them, the hosts are certainly owning up to the ‘favourites’ tag.

Pakistan have looked a different team since their first game against India. They downed South Africa, the leading ODI side with superlative bowling performances backed by good catching and nimbleness in the field. Next, they turned their virtual quarter-final on its head when Mohammad Amir and Junaid Khan choked the life out of the Sri Lankan middle-order. Pakistan won the encounter through sheer brilliance of their bowling. While they have chased in all three games so far, it has always seemed unlikely they could cross 300.

England are the new Spartans of ODI cricket. They are a team of match-winners and scoring 300-plus is common practise for their batting line-up. After walking through to 308 chasing against Bangladesh, they restricted New Zealand in their second match to win it by 87 runs. Joe Root, Eoin Morgan, Alex Hales and Ben Stokes all are in excellent touch, sharing six fifties and two centuries amongst themselves. Also with one of the most balanced bowling units, England are well positioned to claim a spot in the final.

What to expect

The best day of the English summer.

No rain.

At all!

It’s the fourth game at Cardiff with both teams having played and won one game each at the venue. With clear skies and the sun out, expect a dry-ish surface offering a little bit of swing early on - conditions where you may expect Pakistan’s bowling be most lethal. England traditionally have enjoyed playing at Cardiff, with only two losses in 11 games. The last ODI they played against Pakistan was at the same venue which they lost defending 302. For all the statistics and current form, expected the unexpected with Pakistan.

Morgan in a press-conference said he was aware of the threat Pakistan’s bowlers posed, and also has a plan to neutralize their spinners. He might even put Pakistan in to bat first, since they have only chased in this tournament. Consequently, it will be interesting to see what plans Sarfraz sets for the English batsmen. He seemed confident in the team’s ability, vowing that his players will be at their best against England. Sarfraz will hope that Pakistan’s middle order fires for them and might look to push himself up the order.

England might make a change to their XI for the semi-finals. They have persisted with Jason Roy but their patience might just have run thin. An in-form Jonny Bairstow might get a nod for this game. Otherwise, there seem to be no weak links in England’s armor.

Pakistan have found the right balance going into the semi-finals. They are expected to stick to their playing XI from the previous game. Debutant Fahim Ashraf maintained tidy lines and looked good for his quick-fire 25. Whereas Fakhar Zaman and Junaid Khan have been welcome additions to the attack at the start of both innings.

Probable XI

England: Eoin Morgan (c), Joe Root, Jason Roy/ Jonny Bairstow, Alex Hales, Moeen Ali, Ben Stokes, Jos Butler (wk), Adil Rashid, Liam Plunkett, Mark Wood, Jake Ball

Pakistan: Sarfraz Ahmed (c), Azhar Ali, Fakhar Zaman, Babar Azam, Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik, Imad Wasim, Fahim Ashraf, Mohammad Amir, Hasan Ali, Junaid Khan

Players that can make a difference

Ben Stokes – Known as a fighting cricketer, he is handy with both the ball and bat. He has picked up wickets at crucial moments during the tournament, and looked extremely poised during his century against Australia. Coming in at crunch moments, an in-form Stokes could be the difference between winning and losing for England.

Eoin Morgan – As a calm customer, he hasn’t lost the plot in the Champions Trophy yet. The only time England erred, he was there to undo the damage. An attacking player as reflected in both his captaincy and batting, he is England’s second highest scorer in the tournament.

Hasan Ali – A mix of Brett Lee’s chainsaw bursting into Andrew Flintoff’s acknowledgement of his greatness, Hasan Ali’s celebration cannot go amiss. He has picked up 36 wickets in 19 ODIs, almost as many as his runs. A passionate cricketer, he’s the third highest wicket taker in this tournament.

Sarfraz Ahmed – Averaging 60 in England against them, he will be confident taking on the English bowlers. Unlike his predecessor, Sarfraz is an attacking captain having shown sharpness of mind in the previous games. He is excellent behind the wicket, and has been reliable for his team with the bat.

Stat Alert

Pakistan has chased a 300-plus target only once outside Asia against a non-Asian team. It was in their last encounter against England at Cardiff.

England will reach their third Champions Trophy final if they win. Pakistan have never made it to the finals before.

Neither team has won the Champions Trophy before.