Is it really a World Cup if Pakistan have not lurched from crisis to catastrophe, and are not furiously mapping out probability trees, calculating net run rates, and praying that other teams help them sneak into the next round via the back door? Is it really a World Cup if Pakistan are not unpredictable, flawed and dispirited, and when rumours about infighting and leaks to the media aren’t flying around unfettered? Is it really a World Cup if Pakistan look this… good?
Eight days ago, Pakistan had ahead of them games against India, New Zealand and Afghanistan to kick off the tournament with interim head coaches, and batting and bowling consultants with negligible consulting experience. There was plenty of dark humour about Pakistan being eliminated by the time these games were done, but it almost rang too true to be amusing. Eight days on, India have been decimated by ten wickets and New Zealand and Afghanistan seen off with the sort of ruthless efficiency characteristic of serial winners. With qualification to the semi-finals virtually guaranteed, Pakistan can treat the upcoming games against Namibia and Scotland almost like bonus warm-up matches, the sort of luxury no Pakistan team would dream of basking in at this stage of a World Cup.
Pakistan, though, will be the first to recognise the danger of snapping out of this purple patch just as quickly as they’ve found themselves in it, so there’s little chance of a drop-off in intensity against Namibia. It might be an opportunity to rest one or two of the assets they want sharp for the semi-finals; Shaheen Afridi is perhaps the most compelling candidate. It might also be the time to test their bench strength, with Mohammad Nawaz and Haider Ali waiting in the wings should they be required. But now that Pakistan seem to have unearthed the formula to win T20 games once more, it might not ultimately matter which individual players line up against Namibia. It’s about the team, not individual superstars. How often, indeed, do you say that about Pakistan?
Namibia, meanwhile, aren’t there to be anyone’s sidekick. Very much still in the tournament and in contention for the semi-finals, Gerhard Erasmus’ side have played an eye-catching brand of T20 cricket that has seen them come further this tournament than most would have expected. They have a quality fast bowler in Ruben Trumpelmann, a slew of useful spinners, a solid-enough top order, and a superstar in David Wiese. Their successes haven’t been one-man shows; several of these players have stood up at various times to help them through the first round and then beat Scotland in the group. If they can catch Pakistan in a moment of complacency, they might just have the potential to put them under pressure, and in the past, Pakistan under pressure have found themselves doing some funny things.
Everyone’s eyes, though, will be firmly on Pakistan, suddenly among the mid-tournament favourites. Namibia, though, have a shot, and for now, that is all they can ask for.
Namibia: LWWWL (last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Perhaps no side is as familiar with David Wiese of late as Pakistan, given his exploits in the PSL over the past few seasons. Plying his trade with Lahore Qalandars, he has been among the shining stars of a struggling franchise. His exploits as finisher are already the stuff of legend, and what he achieved with the Qalandars has translated seamlessly into his form with Namibia. He has been his side’s highest scorer (142 runs), boasts their highest strike rate (135.23), and has the highest average (47.33) for all their players with more than 60 runs. Add to that his bowling capabilities, and it’s hard not to conclude that there are very few sides at this tournament Wiese would not get into. He’s very familiar with the opposition and the venue by dint of his PSL experience, which makes him one to watch.
Hasan Ali‘s bowling form is the one crease Pakistan will want to iron out. In what has been just about a perfect tournament for almost every other player, Hasan has struggled to find the lines and lengths, either in the middle overs or at the death that make him so lethal at his best. An 18th over that went for 21 let Afghanistan back into the game, and he conceded 44 in his four overs against India last Sunday. Less importantly, though perhaps pertinently in hindsight, he couldn’t defend 18 in the final over of the warm-up game against South Africa either. Add to that a worrying habit of bowling the odd no-ball – he has delivered four in his last two matches – and it’s hard not to conclude that things can only go up for Hasan in this tournament. He will hope Namibia is the starting point.
Despite a first defeat in four games against Afghanistan, Namibia are unlikely to tinker much with a fairly settled side.
Namibia (probable): 1 Craig Williams, 2 Michael van Lingen, 3 Jan Nicol Loftie-Eaton, 4 Gerhard Erasmus (capt), 5 Zane Green (wk), 6 David Wiese, 7 JJ Smit, 8 Jan Frylinck, 9 Pikky Ya France, 10 Ruben Trumpelmann, 11 Bernard Scholtz
Pakistan have no compunction to change their team, but with progress to the semi-finals virtually guaranteed, Pakistan could give some of their squad players a run out.
Pakistan (probable): 1 Babar Azam (capt), 2 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 3 Fakhar Zaman, 4 Mohammad Hafeez/Haider Ali, 5 Shoaib Malik, 6 Asif Ali, 7 Shadab Khan, 8 Imad Wasim, 9 Hasan Ali/Mohammad Nawaz, 10 Haris Rauf, 11 Shaheen Shah Afridi
Pitch and conditions
Pace has played a bigger role in Abu Dhabi than at the other venues, and the ground – which boasts the biggest playing area – has produced surprisingly low-scoring matches. It’s expected to be warm in the evening, with the possibility of dew always a factor.
Stats and trivia
- Pakistan last lost a T20I in Abu Dhabi nearly a decade ago, to England in February 2012. They have won their last five matches at this ground.
- Namibia have won 21 of their 27 T20Is, with a win percentage of 77.77. This is the highest of any nation to have played an ICC World Cup, and second overall, behind Romania’s 88.23% (15 wins in 17 matches).
Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000