In the first semi-final between England and Pakistan in the ICC Champions Trophy, it would be fair to think the home side hold the upper hand while Pakistan would once again look to stutter over the winning line. Both of Pakistan’s wins – against South Africa and Sri Lanka – have not been comprehensive in any way shape or form. On the other hand, England won all three of their group games against Bangladesh, New Zealand and Australia.
When the predictions were made of the eventual semifinalists, Pakistan’s name was not listed by many experts. The number eight side in the world have defied those odds to find their place in the knockout stages. They started the campaign with a dismal show against arch-rivals India with a poor display of all skills of the sport. They were disappointing with the bat, ball and in the field – something that coach Mickey Arthur also acknowledged.
They improved against South Africa and had their share of luck with rain and Duckworth-Lewis method to beat South Africa. That serious luck continued when Sri Lanka put down multiple catches including letting Sarfraz Ahmed bat further with two simple takes off Lasith Malinga. Yet one can’t take away the fact that Ahmed didn’t buckle under pressure with wickets going down easily.
If Sri Lanka allowed them several bites at the cherry, England wouldn’t be so forgiving. The hosts came into the tournament with a 2-1 ODI series win against South Africa as part of preparations and have looked scarily good. The Eoin Morgan-led side scored 300-plus in the first two matches and then easily beat Australia to cruise into the semis and send their Ashes-rivals packing.
The mismatch between the two teams is immense and it showed the last time these two teams met in English conditions. When Pakistan visited England last year, the home side won the 50-over series 3-1. But the last of the four matches was played in Cardiff, the venue of the semi-finals, and Pakistan got the solitary 4 wicket win then. However, things are different now. England have no reason to let their guard down as Pakistan have every reason to improve from here. Having said that, the knockout nature of an ICC event can nullify all the predictions and the rankings as one needs to look only as far as South Africa to see that.