The Australian media space has been filled with reminiscences of the team’s past tours to Pakistan over the last couple of days. From Gavin Robertson talking about his time walking through dark alleys to find underground markets in Multan to others recalling less adventurous memories. The clip which has done the rounds the most though is that of Mark Taylor’s interview with the late David Hookes explaining his decision to declare the innings when he was on a record-equalling 334 not out in Lahore. This throwback train of course has been commissioned as a result of the official announcement of Australia’s proposed return to Pakistan for the first time since 1998.
While debates continue to rage about whether the Australians will indeed head there for the first time in 24 years, and which of their players will be on that flight, the two teams are guaranteed to face each other in Dubai on Thursday (November 11). And in a rather significant contest too. A win will after all take either team to their first T20 World Cup final in over a decade. Waiting there for them will be an inspired New Zealand team, desperate to add a second ICC trophy for the year.
And Taylor isn’t the only left-handed Australian batter of renown whose memories have resurfaced incessantly over the last couple of days. For, the first question you get asked about the semi-final is “who will be the Michael Hussey on this occasion?”. It’s in reference to the last time these two teams at the same stage of a T20 World Cup, back in 2010 in St Lucia. It was Hussey’s four-ball assault on Saeed Ajmal that had after all given the Aussies a seemingly unlikely win.
A lot has changed since. And in many ways the tables have flipped completely. Australia were the firm favourites going into that semifinal 11 years ago. It was during a phase when the men from Down Under were winning ICC tournaments for fun and it seemed only inevitable that they would add a T20I crown to their tally. They’d steamrolled their way into the knockout phase and it took some special performances from the Akmal brothers to put Pakistan in a position of strength before the Hussey heist.
It’s Babar Azam and his highly-talented bunch, however, who’ve been the form team this time around. If anything, Pakistan have had an Australia of yore like campaign in this World Cup. To the extent that there’s been a bit of that late 1990s Australian team aura about this current Pakistani outfit. Every player has a defined role and all of them perform those roles almost seamlessly. They’ve had a near-perfect campaign, with even some of their players who didn’t start too well having now hit peak form, like a Hasan Ali or Shoaib Malik.
And as the only unbeaten team in the tournament, they hold most of the aces going into Thursday’s contest. They seem to have the more balanced side, arguably a more potent bowling attack and batters in great form. Not to forget that intangible yet important factor of momentum.
Meanwhile, rarely has an Australian team flown under the radar quite like they have in the UAE. The only time they were under the spotlight was ironically following their humbling defeat at the hands of England. Not many had given them a chance to progress from their tough group to start with. And they didn’t look all that convincing in their opening game against South Africa either. But like good Australian teams do, Aaron Finch & Co have dominated at the right times against the right opponents to force their way here ahead of the Proteas. Though not as erratic as them at their eccentric best, the Aussies’ run so far in this World Cup has been somewhat like how Pakistan had gone in that 2010 edition of this event.
What Australia have going for them is that Pakistan have not yet quite faced a bowling attack with the firepower that their semi-final opponents possess. Having said that, the only time Australia faced a team with anywhere close to Pakistan’s overall might, England, they went down by submission rather meekly. Perhaps, in a strange way, the Aussies could take some inspiration from their trans-Tasman rivals in terms of overcoming pre-match odds to book a place in the final.
There are two streaks on the line here. Australia have never lost to Pakistan in an ICC knockout game while Babar & Co have won their 16 last T20Is in the UAE. Whichever way it goes, what is for certain is that one of them won’t stand come Thursday night.
When: Pakistan v Australia, Semi-Final, November 11, 18:00 Local, 19:30 IST
Where: Dubai International Stadium, Dubai
What to expect:The toss has got a lot of flak during this T20 World Cup, and it’s especially been the case in Dubai where only once has the team batting first won. The average total here has been a shabby 122 but the batters have begun to have more of a say as the World Cup has progressed. Dubai has also seen more dew than the other two venues, making a target defence even more challenging. Pakistan did decide to prepare themselves for that eventuality by choosing to bat first in their last two league games. And their experience in successfully bowling second under lights could well be the deciding factor at the end of the day.
T20I Head-to-Head: Pakistan 13 – Australia 9 (3-3 in T20 World Cups)
Injury/Availability Concerns: There will be a nervous wait for the Pakistani playing XI to be announced in the wake of Mohammad Rizwan and Shoaib Malik missing training on the eve of the match owing to flu symptoms. But they’re expected to take their respective places and that should allow Pakistan to stick to their unchanged XI that they’ve stuck with right through.
Tactics & Matchups: The powerplay has had a powerful impact on proceedings in Dubai and overall Pakistan have played the first six-over period to their strengths, with bat in hand anyway. They’ve gone at less than run-an-over but only lost two wickets in 30 powerplay overs so far. Babar and Rizwan have preferred laying the foundation to either accelerate themselves or set it up for their aggressive middle-order. And it’s been proven by their standing as the most destructive team of the tournament in the death overs.
Australia will pose a dual threat though with the ball. Josh Hazlewood has been a key wicket-taker for his team with the new-ball while Adam Zampa has been the best spinner on show. There is some talk of using Fakhar Zaman to be held back for the leg-spinner if the openers do fail to put on a stand like they have consistently so far.
Pakistan will rely heavily on Shaheen Shah Afridi and Imad Wasim to break Australia’s opening partnership and win the powerplay with the ball, considering how the middle-order has blown hot and cold so far.
Probable XI: Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Babar Azam (c), Fakhar Zaman, Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik, Asif Ali, Imad Wasim, Shadab Khan, Hasan Ali, Haris Rauf, Shaheen Shah Afridi
Injury/Availability Concerns:Australia to their credit have stuck their one specialist spinner strategy and have so far got away with using a mix of Mitch Marsh, Marcus Stoinis and Glenn Maxwell for their fifth bowling quota. And despite Ashton Agar’s impressive record against Pakistan, he’s likely to miss out.
Tactics & Matchups: Australia have come hard with bat and ball at the start, and they’ll stick to it against a Pakistan team who, save Afghanistan, haven’t had to contend with an aggressive approach of that kind. The game could well be decided by the two explosive left-arm fast bowlers on either side, if Afridi or Starc can knock a few over early in their spells. Having said that, Haris Rauf, who really came to the limelight during his time in Australia, could be the x-factor threat that the Aussies will have to negate, alongside the wily Shadab Khan, to make sure the middle-overs go their way. And the man touted to do that is Maxwell, who’s yet to fire. Many have picked him to be the Hussey from 2010, and if he does come off, Australia might well he headed for their second T20 World Cup final.
Probable XI: David Warner, Aaron Finch (c), Mitchell Marsh, Steve Smith, Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis, Matthew Wade (wk), Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Adam Zampa, Josh Hazlewood.
What they said:
“About 10 days ago our team was too old and now we’re an experienced team. That’s just how it all gets portrayed. From day one I’ve had a real lot of confidence in the way that we’ve gone about this with the squad that we’ve got. I don’t think that we’ve exceeded our expectations whatsoever. We came here with a really clear plan to win this tournament, and we’re still alive to do that” – Aaron Finch, Australia captain.
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