With one semifinal place already taken by New Zealand and India closing in on the other, Friday’s World Twenty20 contest between Pakistan and Australia is almost do-or-die. For Pakistan, in what will be their final game of Group 2, a win is the very least that is required to keep their slim hopes alive. For Australia, a defeat wouldn’t spell the end, but it would make things very complicated indeed going into their final match two days later against India.
At one point on Wednesday, both Australia and Pakistan looked to have been given a significant boost in their hopes of joining New Zealand in the final four. India were heading for defeat against Bangladesh, who needed just two runs from three balls to claim an upset victory. But India somehow came through to put themselves onto four points and into the box seat in a tightly fought battle for second place.
Pakistan’s hopes are now hanging by a thread. With two defeats from their three matches, and victory only over Bangladesh, they are perhaps fortunate not to already be eliminated after what has been a disappointing and tumultuous tournament so far. Against both India and New Zealand in their last two matches, Shahid Afridi’s team were well beaten.
No area of the team is functioning well. The decision-making has been questionable, the fielding sloppy, the bowling erratic and the batting too often meek. Meanwhile, those in power have hardly fostered an atmosphere of harmony and positivity after making clear following the defeat to India that Afridi would not be given the chance to continue as captain after the tournament and that coach Waqar Younis’ future was also under consideration.
Still, it would be typical of Pakistan to pull off a victory against all odds on Friday in Mohali. Pakistan’s strong net run-rate, which is better than both India and Australia, is what still gives them a chance. However, it would still require a sizable margin of victory against Australia, and then for Australia to beat India by a small margin on Sunday to secure unlikely progress.
Australia’s path is relatively simple in comparison. Victories against Pakistan and then India and they will be through. A defeat against Pakistan, though, and it will come down to needing to push up their net run rate while beating India.
Australia began the World T20 as one of the favorites to lift the title, but fell short with a modest chase against New Zealand and then made hard work of chasing down Bangladesh’s 156 in Bangalore on Monday. Discussion since has centered on the makeup of Australia’s batting order.
With a squad heavy on openers, Aaron Finch has found himself out of the side, while David Warner has struggled batting at an unfamiliar No. 4 position. Warner has just 23 runs from his two innings so far as part of a middle order, also including captain Steve Smith, that has fallen short of expectations.
“It's just the same old, same old,” Warner said, reports the Sydney Morning Herald. “We're losing wickets in clumps and we don't mean to do it but the type of players that the majority of us are in the middle order, we like to feel bat on ball.
“Sometimes that can be your downfall, where you push at one that might stop in the wicket, push over here and go to cover or something. We don't give ourselves enough opportunity or a chance when we're out there and that's something we have to really take on in the next couple of games. We're going to have to win all four games to lift this trophy. We have to be smart and we have to adapt to the conditions.”
Prediction: Both teams have had their problems thus far, making it difficult to make any hard and fast predictions. However, while they can never be written off, Pakistan’s problems appear far more fundamental. For Australia, the talent, especially with the bat, is there, it is in large part a matter of finding the right blend. They should be good enough to see off Pakistan.
Match time: Friday, 5:30 a.m. EDT