Both Pakistan and Australia will be fighting for their World Twenty20 lives when they face off in Mohali on Friday. While Australia would still maintain a slim chance to progress even with a defeat, for Pakistan it is truly do-or-die. Victory, and ideally a substantial one, is required to give them any chance of advancing to the semifinals, dependent on the result of the last match in the group between Australia and India.
For Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi, a defeat would likely be even more decisive. After a second defeat of the tournament against New Zealand on Tuesday, Afridi commented that the match with Australia could be his last. In truth, he may not have a choice in the matter.
Following the previous loss against India, the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board revealed that Afridi would not remain as captain even if he, as he hinted before traveling to India, reconsidered his decision to retire following the World T20. Shaharyar Khan also made clear that Afridi’s future as a player would be in doubt.
It is just one sign of the lack of harmony that has swept through the Pakistan camp during their stay in India, and, indeed, ahead of the tournament. In the aftermath of the loss to New Zealand, when Pakistan threw away a promising start chasing down a total of 180, coach Waqar Younis repeatedly decried his team as being “Not good enough.” He also made clear that the team’s performances in the competition did not warrant a place in the semifinals. Still, batsman Shoaib Malik insists they will be giving it their all on Friday.
“This is going to be Afridi's last World Cup,” he said, reports Pakistan news outlet Dawn. “I respect him a lot, he is like an elder brother to me,” Malik said at the pre-match press conference. Nobody will be happier than me if we can win this World Cup for Afridi. Every player is trying to give 100 percent. Winning or losing is not in our hands, but each one of us is taking responsibility and trying to give our best.”
Pakistan’s hopes of joining New Zealand in progressing from Group 2 of the Super 10 stage received a further blow on Wednesday, when India came back from the dead to record a dramatic win over Bangladesh. The hosts now sit in second place, on four points, two points ahead of both Pakistan and Australia.
India’s win, then, also made life more complicated for Australia. Two wins, against Pakistan and then India on Sunday, is the only way they can be sure of progressing. And, like Pakistan, they will also be fighting to extend the career of one of their players. All-rounder Shane Watson, the last link to the dominant Australia team of the early 2000s, announced ahead of the match with Pakistan that he would end his 14-year Australia career following the tournament.
Watson has been opening the batting for Australia in this tournament as part of a lineup that has caused much discussion. Aaron Finch has been out of the team entirely, while David Warner has been asked to play out of position at No. 4, in a middle order that has failed to fire so far.
Looking to win the World T20 for the first time, Australia made a poor start when going down to a defeat to New Zealand. And even in beating Bangladesh last time out, they struggled over the line when chasing a modest total. Captain Steve Smith, though, believes they are heading in the right direction.
“I think we're getting a little bit better and I think that's the way you need to play in tournament play,” he said, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. “Obviously you need to win your games but you need to improve as you go through and you want to be playing your best cricket at the back end. I think the other night we weren't as clinical as I would have liked us to be. It was a good opportunity for one of the top four to be there at the end and get the side home but the main thing is we're winning and we got there at the end.”
Match time: 5:30 a.m. EDT
TV channel: Willow TV