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T20 World Cup 2021: Spirited Australia hope to stall Pakistan juggernaut in second semi-final – Firstcricket News, Firstpost

Pakistan have by far been the most impressive looking outfit so far in the 2021 T20 World Cup, dishing out one clinical performance after another to enter the knockouts unbeaten.

And while their 5-0 record in the Super 12s does make them strong favourites to lift the trophy this Sunday, they will be cautious against an Australia side that has been peaking at the right time, and know a thing or two about winning crunch matches in big events.

Australia started off with a scratchy win over South Africa, a game that went down to the last over, and their chances of making it to the semis looked quite thin when they got outplayed by the old enemy England in all departments.

Since their indifferent start to the tournament, however, Australia have looked a different beast, obliterating both Bangladesh and West Indies by sizeable margins in their last two games of the Super 12s. That they bowled Bangladesh out for just 73, and then chased down the target a couple of deliveries beyond the powerplay is what ultimately helped them secure a semi-final berth at the expense of the Proteas, who also notched up four wins in five games but lost out on Net Run Rate.

Australia will be hoping to end their wait for a maiden T20 World Cup title in this edition of the event. AP

One would be taken back to the 1999 World Cup in England, which saw Steve Waugh’s men struggle in the early stages of the tournament with two defeats in three games but go on to win the matches that really mattered to ultimately lift the trophy at the Lord’s balcony. If the Aussies click as a unit the way they did in their last two games, there certainly will be no stopping Finch and Co in their charge towards their maiden triumph in ICC’s flagship T20 event.

Pakistan, on the other hand, have not had to bother with Net Run Rate to begin with, having not looked back since beginning their World Cup campaign with a resounding 10-wicket victory over India. Since ending their World Cup jinx against their neighbours, Babar Azam’s men — who suffered the twin-jolts before the event with New Zealand and England pulling out of scheduled tours — went on to beat the Black Caps and Afghans in tight contests in their next two games, before finishing the group on top with one-sided wins over Namibia and Scotland.

Pakistan’s all-round success in the tournament can be gauged from the fact that skipper Babar has been the most consistent performer with the bat throughout the tournament, sitting at the top of the batting charts with 264 runs at an average of 66 with four half-centuries, and yet he has not been awarded the Player of the Match even once.

Babar’s opening partner Mohammad Rizwan, the middle order unit of Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik and Asif Ali as well as pacers Shaheen Shah Afridi and Haris Rauf have had as much of a role in their success. The way they’ve gone about their business this tournament, one can safely describe this Pakistan team as the closest they have come to the dominant teams of the 1980s and 1990s, if not better.

Pakistan captain Babar Azam celebrates after completing his half-century against Scotland. AP

Pakistan captain Babar Azam is currently the leading run-getter in the ongoing T20 World Cup. AP

A key battle going into the mouth-watering clash on Thursday will be between Pakistan openers Babar and Rizwan and the in-form Aussie pace attack. Josh Hazlewood, once considered a red-ball specialist, has been a revelation with the white ball in the ongoing World Cup as well as for the victorious Chennai Super Kings in the IPL that preceded this event. How the Australian pace attack fares against the Pakistani openers could turn out to be a crucial factor in how the game eventually pans out.

The spotlight will also be on Adam Zampa, currently the second-highest wicket-taker in the tournament with 11 wickets (average: 9.90; economy: 5.73) against his name. The leg-spinner shone with his maiden five-for in the game against Bangladesh, and has been impressive throughout the tournament, but will likely face a stiff challenge from the Pakistani middle order, especially Malik who knows a thing or two about taming quality spinners in subcontinent-like surfaces.

As far as the head-to-record between the two teams go, Pakistan have the upper hand as far as the T20 format is concerned, having won 12 games and lost nine in the 23 times they’ve played each other. As for T20 World Cups, the two teams are level with three wins apiece, with one Aussie victory having come the last time these two sides met in a T20 World Cup semi-final 11 years ago in the Caribbean.

The winner of this contest then goes on to meet New Zealand in the summit clash. The Black Caps had earlier avenged their 2019 Lord’s heartbreak by winning the battle of nerves against England in the first semi-final that took place in Abu Dhabi the day before.

Will Australia set up a Trans-Tasman final by coming out on top on Thursday? Or will Babar and Co make it six in six to setup Round 2 of Pakistan vs New Zealand in Dubai this Sunday? Certainly a very difficult prediction to make given the sheer talent that runs throw the ranks in both camps.

Squads:

Pakistan: Babar Azam (captain), Shadab Khan, Asif Ali, Haris Rauf, Hasan Ali, Imad Wasim, Mohammad Hafeez, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohammad Wasim Jr, Shaheen Afridi, Fakhar Zaman, Haider Ali, Sarfaraz Ahmed, Shoaib Malik.

Australia: Aaron Finch (c), Pat Cummins, Ashton Agar, Josh Hazlewood, Josh Inglis, Mitchell Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Kane Richardson, Steven Smith, Mitchell Starc, Marcus Stoinis, Matthew Wade, David Warner, Adam Zampa, Mitchell Swepson.

Venue: Dubai International Cricket Stadium

Time: 7.30 pm IST | 6.00 pm local time

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