On paper it should not even be a contest. The team who have played the most convincing cricket, who have shown almost no real weaknesses, against the lowest-ranked and most shambolic team in the tournament. There should only be one outcome.
Who in their right mind can write off Pakistan? After all, this is a side who bounced back from a heavy defeat to India to outplay the number-one ranked team in the world, then managed to win their effective quarter-final against Sri Lanka, lose it again, then come back from the dead and clinch it once more.
England may be riding through this tournament like Saint George on an especially burly white horse, but Pakistan are not so much a dragon as a vampire that will keep returning to life unless they are stabbed through the heart with a stake.
In a fitting turn of events, England will go into the game after a quiet, controlled few days in which the only thing on their minds is whether to drop Jason Roy and bring in Jonny Bairstow. Meanwhile, Pakistan will take the field just 38 hours after a manic victory over Sri Lanka in which both teams descended into outright panic. “We won ugly yesterday. We can’t sugar coat that fact,” Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur said on Tuesday (June 13).
Such a rushed turnaround might unsettle some teams – the ones who like everything to be just so – but it might well suit Pakistan, who prefer to play on instinct and emotion. Of course there will be concerns about their middle order, about whether they might have used up all of their luck already, but equally there is the feeling that such a mercurial, unpredictable team is the only one likely to knock England out of their stride as they eye their first piece of 50-over silverware in an ICC event.
Funnily enough, the only time these sides have met in the knockout rounds of a one-day tournament was 25 years ago, when Pakistan beat England in the final of the 1992 World Cup. Pakistan also began that tournament in a state of chaos. As well as England have played to reach this stage of the Champions Trophy as the only unbeaten side, would it really be a surprise if Pakistan pulled another Pakistan?
When: 14th June, 2017 at 10:30 AM Local Time; 3pm IST
Where: Sophia Gardens, Cardiff
What to expect: After a wet first week in the tournament, the weather has cleared and Wednesday looks set to be the warmest day of the year so far in Cardiff. However the game will be played on the same strip that was used for Monday’s scramble, so it will be a little worn. The spinners could well come into play.
England: Although Eoin Morgan would not confirm it, all signs pointed to Jason Roy being replaced by Jonny Bairstow at the top of the order. Roy spent Tuesday’s training session watching on from the periphery while Bairstow had a full bat in the nets. Otherwise the hosts have no need for change after a hugely impressive campaign thus far.
Probable XI: Alex Hales, Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root, Eoin Morgan (c), Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler (wk), Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid, Liam Plunkett, Mark Wood, Jake Ball
Pakistan: Mickey Arthur admitted that, given Pakistan’s middle order fragility, they will consider getting Sarfraz Ahmed or Shoaib Malik in a little earlier. Meanwhile Shadab Khan could rival Fahim Ashraf for a place if spin looks likely to be the greater threat.
Probable XI: Azhar Ali, Fakhar Zaman, Sarfraz Ahmed (c & wk), Babar Azam, Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik, Imad Wasim, Shadab Khan/Fahim Ashraf, Junaid Khan, Mohammad Amir, Hasan Ali
Stats and Trivia:
– Despite his limited opportunities in the one-day side this year, Jonny Bairstow has been excellent when he has got a game – in four ODIs in 2017 he has scored 189 runs at an average of 94.5.
– When Pakistan chased 303 to beat England at this venue last year, it was the first time they had chased a target of 300-plus against a non-Asian side outside of Asia. Mohammad Amir and Hasan Ali shared seven wickets in that game, while Sarfraz Ahmed top-scored with 90.
– This is Pakistan’s 14th appearance in the semi-finals of an ICC event – the joint most for a team alongside Australia and India.
“Getting to this stage of the tournament, we need results, and if that means somebody misses out, it’s unfortunate, but for the team’s sake we need to get results. We want to win this tournament.” Eoin Morgan explains why England appear to have changed their minds about Jason Roy.
“The only thing I will say, is I know that Bairstow has opened at county level but he’s never done it internationally, and I think that’s a different ball game.” Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur suggests that replacing Roy with Bairstow might not be the wisest option.