Aggression is the best defence against a team like Australia. And Pakistan's aggression has got a severe blow when Mohammad Irfan has been ruled out of the all-important ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 quarter-final against the host.
Irfan could have sent jitters into the strong Australian batting line-up, but such is the structure of giant left-arm fast bowler that he perhaps required some more extra care. Playing six one-day internationals in 33 days is not too much of a workload for an international cricketer. In fact, it's no workload at all! I was sure that with so many rest days in between the group matches, Irfan will get enough time to refuel all his energies and will get over all his niggles. Sadly, the worst has happened and the seven-footer giant has broken down.
Sometimes injuries prove blessing in disguise for the other fit players. Even without Irfan, I feel, Pakistan has enough firepower left in its bowling tank to challenge Australia. Wahab Riaz, Sohail Khan and Rahat Ali are shaping up well after every game and with Ehsan Adil slotted in between them, Pakistan bowling looks more than decent to me.
Now the time has gone to give second leg-spinner Yasir Shah a chance in a crunch knockout game. Yasir hasn't played for over a month since his nightmarish only game of the tournament against India. Had Yasir been in the team management's playing equation, he could have got, at least, two more pool matches. This clearly indicates that captain Misbah-ul-Haq is more comfortable with his fleet of pace bowlers.
Moreover with short square boundaries at the Adelaide Oval, it would be a high risk to ask your spinners consume 20 overs and that too against the likes of David Warner, Michael Clarke, Steven Smith and Glenn Maxwell.
Same is the case with Younis Khan, who looked to getting back into some batting form against South Africa, but was dropped for the last group match against Ireland. Another indication that the team management wants Haris Sohail to occupy the No. 3 batting spot and also get into his bowling shoes in case Pakistan needs a sixth bowler.
I won't be surprised if Pakistan goes into Friday's match with the same playing XI which won against Ireland. At least, I don't see any problem with that if they don't tinker with that winning combination. The same eleven ticks all the boxes required to match Australia's aggression to a large extent. My only worry is that except for Sarfraz Ahmed's two brilliant back to back knocks, rest of the batsmen are yet to get into their batting flow. Twice, we have successfully defended less than 250 runs in group matches out of four victories, but against Australia we need more than that to challenge the mighty hosts.
Pakistan desperately need another good start from both Sarfraz and Ahmed Shehzad. It's always better to be 30-0 in 12 overs instead of going down to 30-3 by the end of sixth over. And Pakistan's problem is that they lose too many early wickets which puts pressure on middle lower-order.
In Mitchell Starc, who is leading wicket-taker in this ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, and Mitchell Johnson Australia have two wicket-taking new ball bowlers. Sarfraz and Ahmed have to negotiate this early left-arm Australian onslaught and if Pakistan openers managed to survive six to eight overs, I don't see any reason why Pakistan can't put up enough runs on board for their bowlers to defend.
If Pakistan had been playing against any other team, it would have been a huge advantage for them as they will be playing their third match of the tournament at Adelaide Oval. But against Australia, the odds are Even Steven. Australia know the conditions more than Pakistan do, but Misbah's men have also played enough cricket at the venue and now know the conditions well too.
Like I predicted in the India-Pakistan first match, I believe the team which wins the toss will again bat first on Friday and will try to post at least 270-280 on board. In the afternoon, fast bowlers get enough swing which could be tough for batsmen under lights in Adelaide and the scoreboard pressure always play its huge role, especially in run-chase in crunch matches.
What Misbah needs to do is to be positive, no matter the toss goes his way or not. Australia will not ease their foot off their aggressive approach whether it's bowling, batting or even fielding. It would be interesting to see how Misbah matches Michael Clarke's aggression with aggression of his own. This match doesn't need any defensive approach. Australia has the capacity to simply bulldoze all such defensive tactics.
There's no harm to place fielders up inside the circle against batsman like Maxwell. He tends to play too many shots across the line which I'm afraid won't be easy against Pakistan fast bowlers. Whosoever replies to other's aggression with harder punch will surely succeed. Pakistan has nothing to lose as Australia has some advantage after Irfan's injury. Pressure will be on Australia.
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