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Match Preview – Australia vs Pakistan, ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2021/22, 2nd Semi-Final

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Other than “Shaheen Afridi has a niggle” or “Mohammad Hafeez wants to open the batting”, there’s little that makes Pakistan fans break out in a cold sweat than the words “T20 World Cup semi-final vs Australia”. Even amongst the panoply of inexplicable heartbreak Pakistan cricket has subjected its followers to, Gros Islet in 2010 commands a unique psychologically damaging place.

A semi-final Pakistan were so convinced of having won that they went through the motions for half the second innings, before a freakish knock from Michael Hussey wrecked them. The 22 runs he plundered off Saeed Ajmal’s final four balls unfortunately became a defining moment of sorts in the spinner’s T20 career.
It especially stung Pakistan for two reasons. One, it drew the curtains on the first truly great cricket team of the nascent T20 World Cup era. Second, it established a principle yet to be violated: Australia don’t lose to Pakistan in an ICC knockout game. Aaron Finch‘s men have the chance to extend that dominance further when they take on Pakistan – arguably the team to beat this tournament, as they were in 2010 – in the second semi-final.

Coming into the World Cup, Australia were plagued by concerns around their form. The batting order felt all wrong; they were too many anchors and openers jammed into the middle order. Josh Phillipe’s non-selection seemed to compound the problem of too few power hitters, while the express pace Australia packed in their fast bowling attack didn’t look as if it was built for the UAE.

But since the tournament started, it turned out Finch and David Warner have ensured there’s little the lower order has needed to do, while Mitchell Marsh appears to have found form flying in the face of historical evidence. Mitchell Starc and co. have demonstrated they aren’t one-trick ponies, while the spinners – Adam Zampa in particular – has been one of the performers of the tournament.

It seems like the sort of thing you’d say about their trans-Tasman neighbours, but Australia are playing like a team better than the sum of their parts. With more ICC trophies than the other three semi-finalists combined, the business end of the tournament seems like a bad time to run into Australia.

Then again, this isn’t the nicest time to stumble upon Pakistan, either. Babar Azam’s side have rolled back the years as if it’s the Mickey Arthur era all over again, finding the formula that has made them invincible in the UAE for the last half-decade. A 10-wicket thumping of India put every other side in the tournament on notice, and a blistering group stage sees them become the only side to arrive at the semi-finals with a 100% win record.

For a side as flamboyant as Pakistan – in the past, anyway – there is a cold, methodical aspect to the way they have done their business at this tournament. Shaheen Afridi picks up the early wickets or stifles the openers, leaving the opposition with much catching up to do just as Haris Rauf is getting properly warmed up. With the bat, Mohammad Rizwan and Babar set a platform – without fail – leaving Hafeez, Shoaib Malik and Asif Ali to take turns scything through the bowling. The roles are exquisitely clearly defined, and the execution is forensic.

It seems, at times, as if Pakistan can’t lose in the UAE. But in Australia they’re up against a team they can’t ever seem to beat in these circumstances. How’s that for a scene setter in Dubai?

Form guide

Australia: WWLWW (last five completed matches, most recent first)

Pakistan: WWWWW

In the spotlight

Shaheen Shah Afridi against Australia’s top order might well be the match-up that decides the fate of this semi-final. It’s bizarre to make this a point of criticism, but with Pakistan plugging holes and ticking boxes so effectively, every straw must be grasped at. Since Afridi cemented his status as the king of first overs with an opening spell for the ages against India, he has managed just one wicket in his opening spell across the remaining four games, and none in his first over. It feels especially mean-spirited to point this out, particularly since that hasn’t stopped Shaheen from enjoying a phenomenally successful tournament; aside from one off day against Namibia, he hasn’t once conceded more than a run-a-ball since the opening game.

Alongside Pakistan, Australia are perhaps the most top-heavy side this tournament; 402 of the 640 runs they have scored this tournament have come from the top three. The only two occasions the middle order was forced to bat came against South Africa and England, and Australia struggled to pile on the runs. If Afridi can make inroads against Finch, David Warner and Mitchell Marsh early on, Pakistan’s bowlers should fancy their chances against the men that follow, especially since having limited competitive match practice isn’t the best preparation to facing this Pakistan bowling attack. Equally, though, should Australia see off Afridi’s first spell, as each of New Zealand, Namibia and Scotland managed to do, then Pakistan find themselves up against an opposition far more adept than those three at taking advantage of wickets in hand.

Team news

Australia have a balancing problem with their squad, at times preferring the extra seam bowler, and others one more spinner. They do seem to have settled on their combination, though, and should be unchanged.

Australia (probable): 1 David Warner 2 Aaron Finch (capt) 3 Mitchell Marsh 4 Steve Smith 5 Glenn Maxwell 6 Marcus Stoinis 7 Matthew Wade (wk) 8 Pat Cummins 9 Mitchell Starc 10 Adam Zampa 11 Josh Hazlewood

It has never been easier to predict Pakistan’s line-up; they are the only side in the semi-finals to have made no changes to their starting eleven. With five wins in five, they are not about to start now.

Pakistan (probable):: 1 Babar Azam (capt) 2 Mohammad Rizwan (wk) 3 Fakhar Zaman 4 Mohammad Hafeez/Haider Ali 5 Shoaib Malik 6 Asif Ali 7 Shadab Khan 8 Imad Wasim 9 Hasan Ali/Mohammad Nawaz 10 Haris Rauf 11 Shaheen Shah Afridi

Pitch and conditions

The pitch to be used for the semi-final has seen three previous uses, with the evidence suggesting it should be good for batting. Dew, though could be a factor, making the toss especially important.

Stats and trivia

  • Australia have won all four ICC knockout games against Pakistan: the 1987 World Cup semi-final, the 1999 World Cup final, the 2010 T20 World Cup semi-final and the 2015 World Cup quarter-final.
  • Pakistan have won 16 consecutive T20Is in the UAE. The last time they lost was came in a Super Over against England in Sharjah in November 2015.
  • The three highest Australian T20I run scorers and the two highest wicket-takers are all part of Australia’s current squad. Finch, Warner an Maxwell lead the run charts, while Zampa and Starc have taken the most wickets.
  • Quotes

    “What we’ve seen over the course of the tournament is how important the powerplay is for batting and bowling. I think the stats around the middle overs and the death overs are pretty similar throughout, but the powerplay definitely holds the key. Shaheen has been in really good form for Pakistan, so that’s going to be a crucial battle no doubt.”
    Australian captain Aaron Finch recognises the importance of winning the battle against Shaheen Afridi at the top of the order

    Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000



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    Recent Match Report – Heat Wmn vs StrikersWmn Eliminator 2021/22

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    Legspinner takes the best WBBL figures of all-time to end Brisbane Heat’s season

    Adelaide Strikers 2 for 118 (Mack 50*, McGrath 38*) beat Brisbane Heat 8 for 114 (Hancock 40, Wellington 5-8) by eight wickets

    Amanda-Jade Wellington waltzed through Brisbane Heat with the best spell in WBBL history to send Adelaide Strikers into the Challenger against Melbourne Renegades after an eight-wicket over Brisbane Heat in the Eliminator at Adelaide Oval.
    Wellington took 5 for 8 to create a new WBBL record, and became the fifth bowler to claim 100 WBBL wickets, in her 100th match, as Heat capitulated to post 8 for 114 after being sent in to bat. They were in danger of failing to reach three figures but Nicola Hancock played an extraordinary cameo making 40 off 26 balls from No.9.
    The in-form Katie Mack piloted the chase perfectly with her fifth unbeaten half-century in seven innings while Tahlia McGrath helped finish it in style with some superb striking. The pair combined for an unbeaten 71-run partnership to steer the home side to victory with 21 balls to spare.

    Wellington bamboozled the Heat top order with sharp spin and exceptional control. After Megan Schutt and Darcie Brown held Heat to their worst powerplay of the tournament, Wellington took two wickets in the three balls in the seventh over to sink Heat further into the mire. Grace Harris played one of her worst innings of the tournament scoring 17 from 27 balls before running past a beautifully bowled leg break from Wellington to be stumped by a mile. Striker captain Tahlia McGrath put a slip in and Wellington found the outside edge of Mikayla Hinkley two balls later.

    Jess Jonassen was equally flummoxed by the ball spinning in, chopping on in the ninth over trying to pull a length ball that zipped back sharply. Wellington took two more in the 11th over to become the fifth bowler in WBBL history. Laura Kimmince holed out in the deep trying to slog-sweep with Bridget Patterson taking a sensational diving catch. Georgia Voll spooned a catch to point off the next ball.

    When Anneke Bosch fell to Brown the Heat slumped to 7 for 52. But Hancock salvaged the wreck with an outstanding cameo of 40 from 26 balls. She smacked six fours and one six. Nadine de Klerk hung with her bravely after copping a nasty blow on the knee by a stray throw while running between the wickets. De Klerk cracked the last ball of the innings for four to finish 18 not out as Heat clattered 51 runs from the last five overs.

    Heat needed early wickets but Jonassen opted not to bowl any spin in the powerplay and Strikers were able to get away to a solid start. Dane van Niekerk was the only wicket to fall in the first six overs but she struck two boundaries. Poonam Yadav was finally introduced in the eighth over and trapped Laura Wolvaardt lbw. But Mack was masterful and flawless in her execution against both pace and spin. She never got bogged down at any stage. She laid the platform for McGrath to power to the finish. The captain thumped a towering six off Poonam and followed it up with drilled drive straight of long-off. The pair cruised to victory with more than three overs to spare. Mack struck the winning wins with a lofted on drive to bring up yet another half-century.

    Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo



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    Match Preview – India vs New Zealand, New Zealand in India 2021/22, 1st Test

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    Big Picture

    India now have the chance to play New Zealand in their own conditions. New Zealand now have the chance to prove they aren’t just WTC champions but also the best all-conditions Test team in the world.

    This should be one of the most eagerly anticipated series of recent times, but just look at who won’t be lining up in Kanpur even though they’re fully fit: Kohli, Rohit, Pant, Bumrah, Shami, Boult, de Grandhomme. It’s the reality of these times. There’s endless, wall-to-wall cricket, most of it within biosecure bubbles, and, at some point, everyone needs a break.

    It won’t have the star power it might otherwise command, but this still promises to be an enthralling series. After an England tour during which India’s XI mostly had room only for one of them, R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja will be back doing what they do best, and their threat is likely to be magnified by the presence of Axar Patel in a three-man spin attack.
    The challenge that this India attack – the aforementioned spinners plus their quicks – presents in Indian conditions may well be among the biggest Test cricket has thrown at batters through its history. New Zealand, though, have quality and experience running through their top five, and in Kane Williamson a world-class force whose record in India doesn’t reflect his immense skill against spin.
    While it isn’t yet clear what shade of subcontinental this Green Park surface will be, it’ll be of a kind that New Zealand haven’t experienced for quite a while. As good as their fast bowlers are, their magnificent recent records have owed quite a bit to the green carpets that have been rolled out for them wherever they’ve gone. Their last nine Tests have all been played either at home or in England, and Kyle Jamieson, who has played all his eight Tests in this period, has a bowling average of – wait for it – 14.17.
    How well he, Neil Wagner and Tim Southee – who has an outstanding record in Asia but hasn’t played in India since 2012 – adapt to Indian pitches might hold as much of a key to how many WTC points New Zealand take home from this tour as the performance of their spinners. On the latter front New Zealand might be better equipped than at any time since the days of Daniel Vettori, with Ajaz Patel having played significant roles in Test wins in Abu Dhabi (twice) and Colombo, and with Will Somerville having featured alongside him in two of those triumphs.

    And while India will start as heavy favourites as they always do at home, their batting line-up won’t wear its usual impregnable look, with Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Virat Kohli and Rishabh Pant absent; with Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane potentially rusty in addition to not having been in the best of form for close to two years; and with one or potentially two debutants set to feature.

    In this line-up’s inexperience might lie New Zealand’s biggest opportunity.

    Form guide

    India WLWDL (last five Tests, most recent first)
    New Zealand WWDWW

    In the spotlight

    The last time New Zealand made a full tour of India, Ajinkya Rahane scored a career-best 188 in the third Test and “>lifted his average to 51.37 after 29 matches. Now, after 78 Tests, that number has dropped below 40, and a number of young, hungry middle-order batters are breathing down his neck. Against that backdrop, and as the stand-in captain and experienced pillar in a largely inexperienced top six, this could be a very important Test in his career.
    Ajaz Patel comes into this series with 13 wickets at 29.61 against Pakistan in the UAE, and nine wickets at 26.88 in Sri Lanka. Those are excellent numbers, but bowling in India, as even Shane Warne and Muthiah Muralidaran discovered, isn’t the same as it is in the rest of Asia. It’s the biggest test for a visiting spinner, but if he can bowl a lot of overs and bowl them with control, the rest of the New Zealand attack will have an axis to bowl around.

    Team news

    Rahane has confirmed Shreyas Iyer will make his debut on Thursday. He hasn’t ruled out playing another debutant in Suryakumar Yadav as well, though, with India not yet revealing if they will play five specialist batters – as they have done in most of their recent home Tests – or six. They may have a difficult decision to make on which seamer to leave out, with a third being unlikely at a venue not reputed to offer too much pace or carry.

    India (probable): 1 Mayank Agarwal, 2 Shubman Gill, 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, 4 Ajinkya Rahane (capt), 5 Shreyas Iyer, 6 Ravindra Jadeja, 7 Wriddhiman Saha (wk), 8 R Ashwin, 9 Axar Patel/Suryakumar Yadav, 10 and 11 two out of Mohammed Siraj, Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma.

    The big question for New Zealand is the composition of their attack – two spinners or three, and if two, which two; and if only two seamers, which one to leave out. Will Young seems likely to take the opening slot vacated by Devon Conway’s injury, with Tom Blundell taking the keeping gloves in the first Test of the post-BJ Watling era.

    New Zealand (probable): 1 Tom Latham, 2 Will Young, 3 Kane Williamson (capt), 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Henry Nicholls, 6 Tom Blundell (wk), 7 Mitchell Santner/Kyle Jamieson, 8 Tim Southee, 9 Neil Wagner, 10 Will Somerville, 11 Ajaz Patel.

    Pitch and conditions

    Ashwin and Jadeja shared 16 wickets between them the last time India met New Zealand in a Test match in Kanpur. In his pre-match press conference, Rahane didn’t go into a whole lot of detail about what he expected from this Green Park pitch, but he made it clear that India, like every other team in the WTC, would look to “make the most of home advantage”. It would be no surprise, therefore, if both teams picked three spinners.

    Stats and trivia

    Quotes

    “When we play on spin-friendly wickets, it is a challenge even for Indian batsmen. But as batsmen once you are in you have to make it count. It is a challenge and we accept that. We are not bothered about our runs, but as a team we want to win each and every game.”
    Ajinkya Rahane says India’s batters don’t mind it if their averages suffer in the team’s quest for Test wins

    “I’ve got Wags (Neil Wagner) and Timmy (Tim Southee) here, so that’ll be good to bounce ideas of them, to get their expertise on how to bowl here. It’s certainly going to be a different challenge to what we get back home but really looking forward to it.”
    Kyle Jamieson looks forward to the biggest challenge of his career so far

    Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo



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    Recent Match Report – Queensland vs South Aust 13th Match 2021/22

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    Marnus Labuschagne made a century following the suspension of play on the first day due to the pitch

    South Australia 8 for 93 (Kuhnemann 4-25) trail Queensland 302 (Labuschagne 110, Street 87) by 209 runs

    The pitch behaved itself on the second day at Karen Rolton Oval, although was far from easy, and Marnus Labuschagne made his second hundred of the season, but the contest for the No. 5 spot in the Ashes side fell flat with failures for both Usman Khawaja and Travis Head.

    After play was suspended 50 overs into the opening due to concerns over damp patches on a length the game resumed on time. Although Queensland fell away from 1 for 179 they were in control at stumps having reduced the home side to 8 for 93 on a surface that remained challenging.

    Head was caught at leg slip off the left-arm spin of Matt Kuhnemann to continue a relatively lean run of scores since the opening weeks of the season.

    Earlier, Khawaja, who is competing with Head for a return to the Test side, was caught behind off an inside edge against Dan Worrall. Both batters will hope to make a mark in the second innings of this contest before the Australia-Australia A fixture at the start of December, although speaking when the squad was announced national selector George Bailey said the selectors had their preferred candidate.

    It was the blows Labuschagne took on the opening day that prompted the suspension of play but there were no such alarms as he moved towards three figures.

    He and Bryce Street, who is part of the Australia A squad, added 124 for the second wicket but from there South Australia fought back. At one stage Queensland lost four wickets for five runs which included Labuschagne dragging on a sweep against Head’s part-time offspin. It took Kuhnemann at No. 11 to lift them over 300.

    The early stages of South Australia’s reply were promising but once Henry Hunt fell to James Bazley they went into a nosedive. After Head’s departure their situation was compounded when Alex Carey slog-swept to deep square leg before Jake Weatherald was bounced out by Mark Stekette.

    Kuhnemann, who has been excellent this season filling in for Mitchell Swepson, had time to claim two more wickets before the close to leave South Australia starring at a follow-on.



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