BENGALURU: As the halfway mark of the World Cup approaches, five-time champions Australia find themselves in unfamiliar territory – the bottom half of the pile.
Two defeats in a row left the Aussies fighting to stay alive in the competition, a situation that was remedied somewhat with the five-wicket win over Sri Lanka in Lucknow on Monday.
They aren’t out of the woods though and face old nemesis Pakistan in a big-ticket clash at the M Chinnaswamy stadium on Friday. The remarkable rivalry between these two teams often flies under the radar, but with so much at stake, it will be renewed with some intensity.
Be it the infamous 1981 Perth Test, where speedster Dennis Lillie and Javed Miandad nearly came to blows or the 1999 World Cup final at Lords, in which the late spin legend Shane Warne (4/33) inspired the Australians to the title, competition between the two teams have been riveting.
Statistics say that Australia have the edge in World Cups, having won six of the 10 previous meetings. However, the past will count for little. Pat Cummins and his men will seek to keep the momentum from their win over Sri Lanka going while Pakistan need to put the drubbing at the hands of India behind them if they wish to go deep into this tournament.
Another factor going well for Australia is their fairly good run at the venue. Also, the ground is traditionally known for high-scoring matches. A case in point is Australia’s previous outing here in 2020. The ODI, which India won, yielded a total of 575 runs with Steve Smith (131) and Rohit Sharma (119) returning centuries.
LEG-SPINNERS IN FOCUS
Most of Indian leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal’s 187 IPL wickets have come at the venue. Australia, with Adam Zampa in their ranks, will take heart from the numbers. The 31-year-old, battling a back spasm, will be a vital cog in their strategy.
Having been part of the Royal Challengers Bangalore set-up in the past, Zampa, the match winner against Sri Lanka, will look to cash in on the familiarity factor. It will also be a homecoming for off-spinner Glenn Maxwell, who is an integral part of the Bengaluru-based franchise.
With leg spin being a big factor, Pakistan would be tempted to give Usama Mir a chance, especially with their go-to leg-spinner Shadab Khan’s prolonged lean form.
Pakistan’s main paceman Shaheen Shah Afridi hasn’t hit a purple patch yet. His ferocity has been dented by inconsistent line and length. He has struggled to find the sweet spot on the strip. The 23-yearold, who has just recovered from fever, will have to pilot the pace attack although his game plan calls for immediate course correction.
On the Australian side, barring the opening game against India, the new ball pair of Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood have offered the opposition openers enough leeway to settle down. The pace trio, with skipper Cummins in the mix, can ill-afford to slip up at the compact ground.
BATSMEN TO THE FORE
On either side there are batters who have matched their reputation with performance. While the Australian top-order, comprising Mitchell Marsh, Steve Smith and David Warner, will seek consistency, the focus will be on the Pakistan batting powerhouse led by skipper Babar Azam. They, like the Australians, can bat deep but will be without opener Fakhar Zaman, who will sit out for at least a week due to a recurring knee injury.