Adelaide, March 19:
Hosts Australia will have to counter a rising and unpredictable Pakistan in the third cricket World Cup quarter-final at the Adelaide Oval here on Friday.
While four-time World Cup winners Australia can easily be termed as favourites going by the past performance and the arsenal they possess, pressure of expectations will be high on Michael Clarke’s men.
They finished second in Pool A with four wins. They lost a match against New Zealand and shared a point with Bangladesh due to rain. They will once again be hoping to overcome the pressure of expectations and Pakistan on a pitch expected to suit fast bowlers.
Meanwhile Misbah-ul Haq’s Pakistan are on a roll. They won four consecutive matches to enter the last eight contest after losing the first two games against India and the West Indies.
The worry for Pakistan will be whether it can weather Australia’s bowling attack, as only one Pakistani player has hit a century in the tournament so far, and that was only in the dying stages of their win over Ireland last week.
While opener Sarfraz Ahmed has delivered the most against Ireland and South Africa, Misbah, 40, has been a solid, steadying influence on the team whose middle and lower middle order have failed so far.
Pakistan will once again look up to veterans Misbah and star all-rounder Shahid Afridi — both will quit One-Day International (ODI) cricket after this tournament — for inspiration.
While Afridi, a veteran playing in his fifth World Cup, has failed so far — only 93 runs and two wickets in six matches, captain Misbah has been a leading light. The right-hander has scored 316 runs that include four half-centuries.
In the quarter-final, Misbah needs support from his younger batsmen Ahmed Shehzad, Umar Akmal, Haris Sohail and Afridi.
“Yes, they (Australia) are favourites but there is no hard and fast rule that favourites are always going to win the game,” Misbah said.
“It’s on the day, the team that performs better, the team who has better chances, better luck, can really defeat any team. So we are hopeful and we are very positive.”
Contrastingly, Australia’s batting goes all the way down to Number 9 and 10, with all-rounders Shane Watson, Glenn Maxwell, Mitchell Johnson, James Faulkner and Mitchell Starc all able to swing the willow.
Along with the all-rounders, David Warner, Aaron Finch, Michael Clarke and veteran wicketkeeper-batsman Brad Haddin will have the responsibility to provide stability during batting.
While Pakistan’s pacers have found their rhythm and may trouble the Australian top order, they will rue the absence of Mohammad Irfan. The tall left-armer suffered a stress fracture of the pelvis and was sidelined for the rest of the tournament.
However, Wahab Riaz, Rahat Ali and Sohail Khan are all capable of toppling any batting order on a lively Adelaide pitch.
For a team not having its first-choice seamer Junaid Khan and leading spinner Saeed Ajmal and a senior all-rounder like Mohammed Hafeez, can be detrimental. But Pakistan’s ability to produce talented cricketers on a regular basis was not in doubt and this tournament has proved it again.
It will be interesting to see whether coach Waqar Younis fields spinner Yasir Shah or goes with Afridi as the lone spinner.
World No.1 Australia, too, have fearsome quicks of their own and should have ascendancy with the ball. Left-arm seamers Johnson, Starc, Faulkner and right-armer Pat Cummins are difficult to score off and Pakistan will have to be careful of them.
“Fast bowling will play a big part tomorrow, especially if they leave that grass on the wicket like there is now – fingers crossed,” Clarke said at the pre-match media conference.
“But both teams have good fast bowlers in their line-ups so the batters, we’re going to have to make sure we play really well.”
Clarke suggested Pakistan’s inferior ODI rankings (seventh) may indeed be misleading.
“I think Pakistan have been under-rated for a long time, especially in the shorter form of the game,” Clarke said. IANS