ICC Cricket World Cup enters into its third quarter final today when pre-tournament favourites, Australia take on a resurgent Pakistan at Adelaide.
Australia had no difficulty in progressing to this stage except suffering the one-wicket defeat at the hands of co-hosts New Zealand in a low-scoring and close-finish match.
Pakistan's start to this World Cup has been disappointing, to say the least, with heavy defeats meted out by arch rivals India and West Indies. Many were worried about their crossing the first hurdle and making it to the last eight. But then came four successive victories, including one against South Africa, which helped them progress to the second stage of the tournament. Many say, this progress is similar to that achieved by Imran Khan's team in 1992 when Pakistan lifted the coveted trophy.
However, the current Australian team under the captaincy of Michael Clarke has its strength in all departments of the game. Apart from the skipper, the team can boast of a batting line-up consisting Aaron Finch, Dave Watson, who could again open the innings, and prolific scorers like David Warner, Glen Maxwell and Steven Smith. But, it has been seen that when under pressure, even this great line-up could prove to be brittle and Pakistan could take advantage of that.
Pakistan's batting largely hinges on the success of skipper Misbah-ul-Huq who has four knocks of fifty in this World Cup. The late inclusion of wicketkeeper batsman Sarfraz Ahmad, with a ton already under his belt, has strengthened the team's batting, but Pakistan must also get some useful contributions from the likes of Umar Akmal, Younis Khan and Shahid Afridi.
It must be remembered that the match venue is Adelaide which has short boundaries on either side which the batsmen could find useful. The 'drop in' pitch and the ground itself are quite rough. This could help the Pakistani team, especially the fast bowlers, who could swing the ball both ways. The loss of Mohammad Irfan has been a big blow, but the team has bowlers like Wahab Riaz (14 wickets), Rahat Ali (7) and Sohail Khan who have the capability of delivering on a given day.
Australia's fast bowling could be termed stronger with Mitchell Starc (16 wickets from matches), Pat Cummins, Mitchell Johnson and Ryan Harris, all capable of firing all guns against any opposition. It is a shame that the team does not have a genuine spinner.
It will therefore be a duel of the fast bowlers of these two teams and with reports that there could be a bit of grass on the pitch, the bowlers could turn it into an interesting match.
This is another 'do-or-die' match and both teams must hold their nerves to progress to the last four where their opponents will be defending champions India. Australia definitely looks a better side and could emerge as victors against Pakistan. But, one thing that can be predicted with certainty about Pakistan is their unpredictability. One just cannot write them off and who knows, Pakistan could bring off yet another big surprise in this World Cup. That would mean, yet another India-Pakistan match. An Australia- India semi-final is also a mouth-watering prospect.
The world Cup is becoming more and more interesting.