Fighting criticism has been the norm for Pakistan cricketers in recent years. With just one win from their first five matches at the 2019 World Cup, they find themselves receiving brickbats rather than bouquets once again. On Sunday, June 23 – they are up against South Africa at the iconic Lord’s stadium in London and this match might provide Sarfaraz Ahmed’s side with some solace.
At the last two ICC 50-over tournaments, it has been fixtures against the Proteas where Pakistan have been able to turn brickbats into bouquets. On both occasions, the Asian team went into the contest as underdogs and came out victorious. This time, though, the two teams are more evenly matched and it’ll be interesting to see the approach each team takes.
Like Pakistan, South Africa come into the game with just three points and have played a game more than their upcoming opponents. A loss for either team here will, in all likeliness, end their chances of making the final four.
There were big hopes from Pakistan’s top three as Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq and Babar Azam all averaged over 50 coming into the tournament. But they haven’t been able to perform at their optimal levels at the World Cup so far, with only Afghanistan and West Indies’ top three averaging less than Pakistan (32.4).
On the other hand, South Africa have their own problems at the top of the order. If Pakistan have the third least average among top three batsmen at the tournament, South Africa are fourth from bottom (34.2). A bigger worry for the Proteas is their inability to score quickly at the start of the innings. Only Afghanistan’s top three have batted at a lower run-rate than South Africa’s top three (4.6).
Hashim Amla’s scoring rate has especially been a worry for the African team. The right-hander has been scoring 59 runs every 100 deliveries at this World Cup – a strike-rate that is well below par for an opening batsman in 2019. Some might even consider it unacceptable!
In fact, among batsmen who have scored at least 50 runs in the first ten overs at this World Cup, no one has scored at a slower rate than Amla during that period. The 36-year-old has a strike rate of 60 in the first Powerplay and an incredibly high dot-ball percentage of 74.1. What has not helped is that even his partner, the usually quick-scoring Quinton de Kock has a low strike-rate (71) between overs 1-10.
Du Plessis, too, has a strike-rate of just 70.5 during the first 20 deliveries of his innings.
The top order on each side will be up against fast bowling units that have a couple of weaknesses. Mohammad Amir has been superb at the World Cup, taking 13 wickets and conceding just 4.7 runs per over. But he hasn’t been backed well by the rest of the pace battery. Pakistan have been the least economical bowling side (6) in the first 10 overs, an area of concern for Sarfaraz and coach Mickey Arthur.
South Africa, meanwhile, will be worried that Lungi Ngidi hasn’t taken a wicket in the first 40 overs in the three matches he has played in so far. Du Plessis will perhaps look to save Ngidi for the end of the innings as the right-arm pacer has picked four wickets between overs 41-50 at an economy of less than six.
Both these teams have been reliant on their respective leg-spinners – South Africa’s Imran Tahir and Shadab Khan for Pakistan – in recent years. But at this World Cup, both have contrasting fortunes. While Tahir has taken eight wickets from five innings at an economy of just over 5, Shadab has just two wickets from as many innings, conceding 6.5 runs per over.
One area where both differ is the use of the googly. While Shadab uses it as a surprise delivery to fox batsmen, Tahir bowls it often as he looks for wickets. If left-handers like de Kock and David Miller are at the crease, it will be interesting to see if Shadab goes to the googly more often.
Shoaib Malik has been in awful form and on the back of consecutive ducks, he could make way for Haris Sohail.
Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Babar Azam, Mohammad Hafeez, Haris Sohail, Sarfaraz Ahmed (c, wk), Imad Wasim, Shadab Khan, Wahab Riaz, Hasan Ali, Mohammad Amir.
The big question for the Proteas - to stick with Aiden Markrem or go back to JP Duminy?
Quinton De Kock (wk), Hashim Amla, Aiden Markram, Faf du Plessis (C), Rassie van der Dussen, David Miller, Andile Phehlukwayo, Chris Morris, Kagiso Rabada, Imran Tahir, Lungi Ngidi