"There are lots of relationships in cricket, but when it comes to Thursday night, we'll put our friendships down for three hours and we'll get down to business, so it should be good fun." Australian head coach Justin Langer and Pakistan batting coach Matthew Hayden, who forged one of cricket's best opening partnerships for Australia, are set to collide in the second semifinal of the T20 World Cup 2021 in Dubai. The two will try their best to defeat each other, and so will the 22 men who will take the field on Thursday (November 11). There’s also a bit of history between these two sides in this format. The last time they met in the semifinal of a T20 World Cup, Michael Hussey produced one of the most scintillating knocks in the history of T20 cricket and propelled Australia to a preposterous win.
Not many people would have picked Pakistan and Australia as favourites to reach the semis but the two teams played some consistent cricket in the group stage, in their own ways, and rightly deserve to be where they are. So, let’s talk about Pakistan first. Babar Azam and Co. came into this event after New Zealand and England both cancelled their plans to tour Pakistan earlier this year. Every player in the Pakistan dressing room felt like they had a point to prove and a thumping 10-wicket win over their arch-rivals India helped them settle down right at the initial stage of the competition. They then defeated New Zealand, Afghanistan, Namibia, and Scotland and have entered the semis as the only unbeaten team in the tournament. They have used only 11 players so far and that tells you a story about their consistency. They have played an un-Pakistan brand of cricket so far in the World Cup, but will now be up against Australia who are starting to look more and more dangerous with each passing day.
Things have been falling into place perfectly for Australia. The Aaron Finch-led side commenced the competition with a nervy win over South Africa and then got an easy victory over Sri Lanka in their next game. But, then they suffered a proper hammering at the hands of England and it felt like everything would go downhill from here on, but instead of throwing in the towel, Australia confirmed their place in the semifinals with two massive wins over Bangladesh and West Indies respectively. What’s more, David Warner is back in form and could prove to be a game-changer in the knockouts. The Men's T20 World Cup is the only global white-ball tournament Australia have not won, and going into this all-important encounter, they will be hoping that the law of averages finally catches up with Pakistan. The latter are on a 16-match winning streak in the UAE and are one of the six teams to reach the semifinal of a T20 World Cup unbeaten, but none of the five previous instances saw a team winning the title.
Slow and steady don’t always win the race
Don’t lose wickets in the powerplay, start picking up the pace in the middle overs, and then go berserk in the death overs - Pakistan play T20 cricket in a “traditional” manner but you can’t deny that their batting approach has worked out perfectly so far in the showpiece event. Their openers Babar (264 runs) and Mohammad Rizwan (214) have been phenomenal and have constantly given them solid starts. The two are not power-hitters and generally like to take some time to settle in. In the Super 12s stage, Pakistan lost the least number of wickets (2) in the powerplay but also had the fourth-worst scoring rate (5.8). Both Babar (93.7) and Rizwan (87.1) have operated at a strike rate of way below 100 in the first six overs and this could come back to haunt them against Australia’s formidable bowling attack.
The two generally convert their starts into big scores and commence accelerating in the middle and death overs. Pakistan have the second-best scoring rate (8.2) in the middle overs but they will be up against a side which have picked up the most number of wickets (18) and has the best strike rate (13.9) in that phase. And, 11 of those 18 wickets have come via Adam Zampa. The legspinner is criminally underrated in white-ball cricket and has easily been the most impactful bowler in the middle overs in this World Cup. Five of Pakistan’s top-six batters are right-handers and Australia could also be tempted to bring in Ashton Agar. Babar and Rizwan will also have to be careful against Josh Hazlewood in the powerplay. The right-arm paceman has claimed six wickets - the joint-most in the Super 12s stage - at a strike rate of 10 and an economy of just 5.8 in the first six overs.
The two openers have amassed 68.97 percent of the total team runs but the likes of Shoaib Malik (strike rate 186.79), Asif Ali (247.82) and Mohammad Hafeez (164.70) too have played some blistering match-winning cameos. While Asif played the role of a finisher against New Zealand and Afghanistan, Malik smoked an 18-ball 54* against Scotland. Meanwhile, Hafeez too has managed 30-plus scores in the previous two games. It’s largely because of them that Pakistan have the best scoring rate (13.2) in the death overs. However, there are some weaknesses that the Australian bowlers could exploit.
Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, and Hazlewood all operate at more than 140 kmph and can bowl those hard good-length deliveries, on which Malik has a strike rate of just 107 in T20s since 2020. Meanwhile, Asif struggles against short deliveries. The right-handed batter averages less than 10 and has a strike rate of just 100 on such deliveries in this format since 2020. Then there is Hafeez, who strikes at 148.09 against pace but operates at less than 115 against spin. If Australia can get rid of Rizwan and Babar in the powerplay and get into Pakistan’s middle-order early in the innings, Malik and Co. could have their task cut out.
Pakistan need to be wary of Warner, Finch
David Warner wasn’t in great form coming into this World Cup but the left-handed opener looked at his absolute best against West Indies. The 35-year-old slammed 89* off 56 deliveries, and is currently Australia’s leading run-scorer in this mega event. Warner has scored at over 140 against both pace and spin. He has scored 79 off 56 against spin in this World Cup and is the only batter to not get out against spinners despite facing more than 50 balls. He will also fancy his chances against Imad Wasim, considering he has a strike rate of 245 against the left-arm spinner in the shortest format of the game. While Warner is capable of taking down Imad, the onus of going after in-form Shaheen Afridi will be on Finch. The right-hander has an average of over 170 against left-arm pacers in this format and hits a boundary every 4.1 deliveries. Afridi has dismissed him once in the past but Finch too has a strike rate of 170 against him.
The Australian team management would also want Glenn Maxwell to stamp his authority in the knockouts. The right-handed dasher was in amazing form in IPL 2021 but has only managed 29 runs in five innings in the T20 World Cup. Amongst the top-six batters who have batted in all five innings in the Super 12s, only Chris Gayle (9) and Gerhard Erasmus (9.2) have scored at a lesser average than Maxwell (9.7). The top-order has done bulk of the scoring for Australia, but if needed, Maxwell will be itching to make an impact against Pakistan. “I feel like I'm still in that headspace where I was during the IPL, where I was hitting the ball really cleanly and feel ready to play whatever role I need to when I get out there,” he said.
Pakistan’s economical spin duo
In the bowling department, fast bowlers Afridi and Haris Rauf have hogged most of the limelight but Pakistan’s spinners Imad and Shadab Khan too have played their roles to perfection. The two have scalped nine wickets between them and have conceded runs at an economy of just 5.58. In the Super 12s stage, only England spinners (5.7) had a better economy than Pakistan tweakers (6). Babar has used his bowling resources perfectly, with Afridi and Imad most operating in the first six overs, while Shadab has only bowled in the middle overs. Then you have Rauf who has bowled 50 percent of his overs at the death. Both Pakistan and Australia have some quality batters but the fate of this game could very well be decided by their bowlers.
Pakistan - Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Babar Azam (c), Fakhar Zaman, Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik, Asif Ali, Shadab Khan, Imad Wasim, Hasan Ali, Haris Rauf, Shaheen Afridi.
Australia - David Warner, Aaron Finch (c), Mitchell Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Steven Smith, Marcus Stoinis, Matthew Wade (wk), Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Adam Zampa, Josh Hazlewood.