A preview of the first semi-final of the ICC Champions Trophy, between England and Pakistan at Cardiff on Wednesday.
This is the two sides’ first meeting in a major ODI competition since 2003 and their first in a knockout since the 1992 World Cup final, when Wasim Akram’s two in two led the cornered tigers to victory. But times have changed since then. England are the world’s form team, while Pakistan aren’t yet certain to qualify for the next World Cup. The last series between these sides saw England thrash Pakistan 4-1, and run up a world record total of 444-4 in the process. All signs, then, point to a comprehensive England win. But in a one-off game, anything can happen…
We could have picked any from a number of England’s batsman, with Joe Root, Eoin Morgan, Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes all in pristine form, but we think Hales might outshine them all in this game. He has form against Pakistan, with his 171 against them the highest score by an Englishman in ODIs, and with two fifties in the tournament so far, the first a brutal 95 against Bangladesh, all signs point to a big innings from England’s best ODI opener since Trescothick.
Still a young man, 23 year old Hassan Ali is quickly becoming a key member of Pakistan’s bowling unit: with 36 wickets he is their leading ODI wicket-taker since the last World Cup, and has a bowling average of just 25 in this period. In the Champions Trophy however, he’s reached another level, and a wider audience, ensuring that he will be in the conversation when people talk about the future stars of the world game.
His spell of 3-21 against South Africa included possibly the ball of the tournament, one that just nipped away to clip the top of Wayne Parnell’s off stump, while his dismissal of Kusal Mendis, bowled by one that nipped back, was almost as good, and opened the door for Junaid Khan and Mohammad Amir to burst through. On this form, there are few bowlers you’d pick ahead of him to stop England’s batting juggernaut.
Where it could be won…
Pakistan’s middle order in the middle overs
Key to both side’s Champions Trophy campaigns have been their abilities to crack sides open during the middle overs. But while England would seem to have the quality and depth to survive an assault, Pakistan’s batting order has looked shaky in every game so far. If they can’t find a way to survive against Mark Wood, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, and the rest, then winning this game could be beyond them.
It will be closer than people think, with Pakistan capable of making inroads into a formidable England batting line-up. But England’s depth should give them at least something to bowl at, and up against a Pakistan batting line-up that makes a 99 flake look sturdy their host of wicket-takers should see them home.