An unpredictable, but dangerous, Pakistan stand between New Zealand and a third successive entry into a global cricket final as the two go into the battle mode in the first semi-final of the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup at the Sydney Cricket Ground tomorrow.
New Zealand, led by Kane Williamson, had agonizingly lost to hosts England via the super over in the 50-over World Cup held in 2019.
Last year, the Kiwis once again came close to clinching the T20 World Cup crown but Australia dashed their hopes in the final.
Tomorrow, as New Zealand aim to make their third entry on the trot into the final of an ICC championship, Pakistan stand tall in their path.
Pakistan were out in the dumps after losing the opening two games in the six-team Group 2 round robin league, against India and Zimbabwe respectively, here in Australia.
But the unexpected exit of the well-poised South Africa from the fray, after they slumped to a shock defeat against the Netherlands, has given a golden chance for Pakistan to stay in the hunt for the title.
It has been a roller-coaster ride for Pakistan, bouncing back from defeats in the first two matches against arch-rivals India and Zimbabwe, to score splendid wins in the next three matches against Netherlands, South Africa and Bangladesh – in that order.
“It’s been a roller coaster ride, but a ride that I wouldn’t have it any other way,” said Pakistan’s batting mentor Matthew Hayden in the match-eve media conference today.
“When Netherlands beat South Africa, it was a significant moment for us in the tournament and a very, very significant moment for the team, in general,” he commented further.
Pakistan are on a roll with three successive wins and as significantly their fast bowling spearhead Shaheen Shah Afridi too has bounced back superbly after a somewhat below par show in the first three games.
Especially pleasing to the Pakistan think tank would be his deadly stints of 3 for 14 against South Africa and 4 for 22 against Bangladesh in the must-win encounter.
“We’ve had Shaheen, who came into the tournament with some injuries and now is starting, through bowling efforts, to really hit his straps. We have four quicks. They’re all significant players in their own right,” Hayden remarked about the potent pace attack of his team.
Pakistan’s batting has been slightly off the mark with Shan Masood (134 runs) holding fort along with Iftikhar Ahmed (114) leg spin bowling all-rounder Shadab Khan, who has scored 78 runs and taken 10 wickets.
Of particular concern for Pakistan is their captain Babar Azam’s poor form, indicated by his low tally of 39 runs from five matches.
“And as we all know about the weather, once there’s a lull, there’s often a storm that follows. So look out, rest of the world, because I think you’re about to see something very special from Babar,” cautioned Hayden.
New Zealand have been quite impressive and had a great start to the tournament when they drubbed defending champions Australia by 89 runs at this venue – the SCG.
Their match against Afghanistan at the Melbourne Cricket Ground was washed out and they then continued their impressive roll with a 65-run victory over Sri Lanka, again at the SCG.
SCG, thus, has been their happy hunting ground. Captain Williamson (132 runs) and Glenn Philips (195) are New Zealand’s leading scorers moving into the last four.
In bowling, the Kiwis have maintained the same main combo of three pacers (speedy Lockie Ferguson and swing bowlers Tim Southee and Trent Boult) and two spinners (left-arm Mitchell Santner and leggie Ish Sodhi).
“They are a strong team. It’s going to be a tough match,” said Williamson at his pre-match presser.
“The first time we played here the wicket was good and the next time it was different,” he pointed out about his team’s two earlier games at this venue in this tournament.
New Zealand, significantly, won both.
“It’s hard to tell. Both teams match up pretty well. It will be a good match. They have an outstanding pace attack. They are a well-balanced and strong side,” he added.
The winners of tomorrow’s match will take on the winners of Thursday’s second semi-final clash between India and England at the Adelaide Oval in the final which is scheduled at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on November 13