After less than two weeks of non-stop, rain-soaked and, more recently, thrilling cricket, the semi-finals of the Champions Trophy are upon us.
It is an uneven contest, at least on paper, as England take on Pakistan, the lowest-ranked team in the competition. The hosts began their tournament as the bookies favourites and have done little so far to suggest that that was a mistake.
However, matches are not played on paper and while Pakistan were diabolical against India their bowling attack has thrust them into what looked like a very unlikely spot in the last four of the tournament, can they spring one more surprise to make it all the way to the final?
Given how Pakistan have batted both historically and during the course of this tournament, you would have to be either very brave or very foolish to back them against an England side that looks more and more impressive with every outing – an almost troubling position for most English cricket fans to find themselves in given the team’s horrific ODI past.
The selection of Fakhar Zaman, who looked impressive in this year’s Pakistan Super League, gives Pakistan a considerable amount of dynamism at the top of the order. However, with bat in hand, you always feel they are never far from complete meltdown.
England, until recently all too reliant on their impressive batting firepower, now look like having a fearsome triumvirate of bowlers, who might well be licking their lips at the prospect of Pakistan’s papier-mâché middle order.
Liam Plunkett and Adil Rashid have proved to be that most precious of commodities — bowlers who take wickets in the middle overs. And in Mark Wood, England have discovered a real game-changing bowler who looks dangerous on most surfaces and has been incredibly economical so far in the tournament – Wood has bowled more dot balls than any other bowler so far in the Champions Trophy.
Pakistan though have a fairly fearsome bowling attack of their own, with Hasan Ali, one of the tournament’s breakout stars, and Junaid Khan rolling back the years to catapult the team into the semi-finals. Throw in Mohammad Amir, who perhaps hasn’t taken the wickets some of his bowling deserved in this competition, as well as Fahim Ashraf or Shadab Khan and Pakistan certainly have the weaponry to make some serious inroads into England’s batting line-up.
However, England’s greatest strength is undoubtedly their ridiculous batting depth, and with Jonny Bairstow set to come in for the horribly out-of-form Jason Roy, they have a side that could bat Pakistan out of the game.
England have the luxury of having most of their players in excellent form, with Alex Hales, Joe Root, Eoin Morgan and Ben Stokes all looking in excellent touch. Not only them, but with Bairstow, Moeen Ali and the exceptional Jos Buttler in the side as well, they have plenty of reinforcements.
Smart money then remains with England, who, provided they can avoid the sort of calamitous collapse they produced in a recent ODI against South Africa at Lord’s, look too strong in almost all departments for Pakistan.
Then again just as it is foolish to ever expect too much from Pakistan, so it remains a folly to ever truly write them off – maybe, the cornered tigers can surprise England’s rampant lions.
Updated Date: Jun 14, 2017 09:52 AM