New Zealand & Pakistan and a semi-final in the spirit of 1992

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There are parallels. They may not mean anything, but they’re there, if you’re the kind of cricket fan who looks for them. And if you’re a Pakistan fan, you’re always looking for parallels to 1992.

 

Well, here are a couple. New Zealand began their tournament with a big win over Australia. New Zealand topped their group table (yes, there were no groups in 1992, but let’s not nitpick), losing only once before the knockouts. New Zealand’s No. 4 was, and is, the tournament’s leading batter (according to no less an authority than Smart Stats.)

 

And then we come to Pakistan. A Pakistan who were all but out of the tournament, only for forces beyond human comprehension – Qudrat ka Nizam*, you might say – to carry them into the semi-finals. They come there fuelled by pace, left-arm swing, and wristspin, among other things (things that don’t quite match the just-like-92 theme), tigers who are cornered no more.

 

There are other ways to look at this contest, but we have a detailed Tactics Board for that. It’ll tell you that batting first could be a significant advantage, that New Zealand will want to bowl short and into the pitch at Pakistan’s batters, that Shaheen Shah Afridi vs Finn Allen could be a key battle.

 

All of that will play a role in Wednesday’s clash at the SCG. But there will also be other forces at play, at least in our imaginations. New Zealand’s history in World Cup knockout games. The history of New Zealand-Pakistan knockout games at World Cups. Qudrat ka Nizam. The law of nature.

 

Whatever will be, will be as nature wills it.

 

* After Pakistan’s loss to England in the third T20I in Karachi in September, their head coach Saqlain Mushtaq reacted in inimitably philosophical manner at his post-match press conference. “Qudrat ka nizam hai, hum kya kar sakte hain? [It’s the law of nature, it’s not in our control]” Widely mocked in social media in the immediate aftermath of their utterance, the words gained an entirely new connotation after South Africa’s shock upset at the hands of Netherlands paved the way for Pakistan to reach the World Cup semi-finals.

 

Form guide

 

 

New Zealand WLWWL (last five completed T20Is, most recent first)

 

Pakistan WWWLL

 

In the spotlight

 

 

Tim Southee and Trent Boult have been in four World Cup finals across the three formats, but they’re yet to get their hands on a white-ball trophy. This could be their last chance, and they could do something about it if they get the new ball moving around against Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan, who are under immense pressure individually and as an opening combination at this tournament.

 

Mitchell Santner has only bowled seven balls to left-hand batters at this World Cup so far. Pakistan have the tools with which they can put him under pressure, if they deploy Shan Masood and Mohammad Nawaz at the right time. Much as they did to counter the threat of Shakib Al Hasan, they could promote Nawaz up the order and hold Mohammad Haris back.

 

Kane Williamson (31 off 36 balls, one dismissal) and Daryl Mitchell (13 off 15 balls, one dismissal) have struggled against legspinners at this World Cup. How they handle Shadab Khan through the middle overs could be a key battle.

 

 

Team news

 

 

New Zealand resisted the urge to pick the offspin-bowling allrounder Michael Bracewell against left-hander-heavy teams during the Super 12s stage, so it seems unlikely they’ll pick him with Masood and Nawaz in mind. Expect an unchanged XI, barring any last-minute injuries.

 

New Zealand (possible): 1 Finn Allen, 2 Devon Conway (wk), 3 Kane Williamson (capt), 4 Glenn Phillips, 5 Daryl Mitchell, 6 James Neesham, 7 Mitchell Santner, 8 Tim Southee, 9 Trent Boult, 10 Ish Sodhi, 11 Lockie Ferguson.

 

After their narrow defeat to India in their opening game, Pakistan decided to sacrifice the extra batter in order to play the fourth quick. As tempting as it may be to strengthen their batting depth in a knockout game – by bringing in, say, Asif Ali for Mohammad Wasim – it seems unlikely they’ll change a combination that’s worked for them.

 

Pakistan (possible): 1 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 2 Babar Azam (capt), 3 Mohammad Haris, 4 Shan Masood, 5 Iftikhar Ahmed, 6 Mohammad Nawaz, 7 Shadab Khan, 8 Mohammad Wasim, 9 Naseem Shah, 10 Shaheen Shah Afridi, 11 Haris Rauf.

 

Pitch and conditions

 

 

Teams batting first have won five out of six games played at the SCG so far at this World Cup. But there’s one factor that could reduce the impact of the toss: the pitch that will be used for the semi-final is the same one that hosted the Super 12s opener between Australia and New Zealand. It was the flattest and most batting-friendly of the three pitches that have been used so far in Sydney.

 

There is a small chance of rain on Wednesday morning, but the weather should clear up by the time the match is scheduled to start.

 

Stats and trivia

 

 

 

  • Wednesday’s match will be the SCG’s third Men’s World Cup (50-overs and T20) semi-final. The Daren Sammy National Stadium in St Lucia and the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo have hosted three semi-finals each, while The Oval and Old Trafford have hosted four each.

 

 

 

  • In the powerplay phase of this World Cup, Pakistan have scored at a run rate of 5.93. Only Zimbabwe and Netherlands have done worse since the start of the Super 12s stage.

 

 

 

  • Five members of the Pakistan XI that lost to Australia in the semi-finals of last year’s T20 World Cup have played no part in this edition of the tournament – Fakhar Zaman (through injury), Shoaib Malik, Mohammad Hafeez, Imad Wasim and Hasan Ali.

 

 

 

  • New Zealand were losing finalists in that tournament; from the XI that featured in the final, only Tim Seifert has failed to make their squad for this edition. Martin Guptill is part of their squad but hasn’t featured in their XI yet.

 

 

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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