NASSER HUSSAIN: England would be wise to fear Pakistan’s bowling attack ahead of Sunday’s World Cup final… but I’m backing Jos Buttler’s batters!
- England will face off against Pakistan in the Twenty20 World Cup final on Sunday
- Jos Buttler’s side dispatched India by 10 wickets in the semi-final on Thursday
- Pakistan beat New Zealand to make the final having lost their first two matches
- Led by Shaheen Shah Afridi, they boast one of the world’s best bowling attacks
- But Buttler’s batters head into Sunday’s World Cup final in exceptional form
Pakistan are simply mercurial. They can lose their first two games of this Twenty20 World Cup and be on the verge of going out but then they can win every game since and were handed a huge favour when the Netherlands defeated South Africa.
That sums Pakistan up and has been their story over the years. They are so talented and can put in world-class performances but they can also implode and crash out.
It is remarkable they are in the final against England. Everyone is comparing their progress to Imran Khan’s cornered tigers of 1992 and there are definite similarities.
England booked their place in the Twenty20 World Cup final with a superb win against India
Babar Azam has been criticised in the Pakistan media and by ex-players, just as Imran was all those years ago, and Babar had a little go back at them when they won their semi-final against New Zealand.
There is no question Pakistan’s strength lies in their bowling. They have had probably the best bowling attack in the competition, even in that agonising defeat by India right at the very start when only their last eight balls really let them down.
Their best bowler in Shaheen Shah Afridi did not play in the T20 series against England through injury and looked as if he might have come back too soon in this tournament. But he is getting stronger with every game and will pose a real threat tomorrow.
Opening batters Jos Buttler and Alex Hales knocked a stunning 170 partnership to seal the win
If the MCG pitch is the same one we saw earlier in the tournament, conditions could be a bit spicy for Shaheen and company, particularly with the rain around in Melbourne.
Pakistan did make a mistake against India by misreading the conditions and playing an extra batter and spinner when actually they should have played Mohammad Wasim.
That was a surprise, with Australians such as Matthew Hayden and Shaun Tait who know the conditions here so well in their backroom staff, but it is one they have corrected since.
Pakistan are a little similar to India in that their opening batters in Babar and Mohammad Rizwan still play slightly old-fashioned white-ball cricket, even though they did tee off against New Zealand.
In-form England will face off against Pakistan, who beat New Zealand in the other semi-final
Fact is, they have to be a little careful at the start because they do not have the batting depth of England. Their middle order has been fragile at times and they can be conservative up front because 20 overs can be a long time for them.
But they know if they do get a par score, their bowling attack can win the game for them. Or if they bowl first and keep the opposition score down, their methods and their batting tempo can work.
Babar and Rizwan had quiet tournaments before the semi-final — the captain had scored only 39 runs in the World Cup before making a half century against New Zealand — but they both showed their class when it most mattered.
Shaheen Shah Afridi remains one of the most dangerous limited overs bowlers in world cricket
Pakistan have found a little gem here in the form of 21-year-old Mohammad Haris. Once Fakhar Zaman was injured and out of the squad, they needed someone a bit more explosive after the openers and Haris has been just that man in the last couple of games.
He has that fearless arrogance of youth and has given them another attacking option to complement the likes of Shan Masood, who is more orthodox.
One thing that has been notable about Pakistan here is the quality of their fielding — and they out-fielded New Zealand, which is not something you associate with them.
I will be surprised if the MCG is full on Sunday but there will be a sea of green, as we saw at the SCG in the semi-final, and England will have to deal with the opposition having the majority of support, as they did so superbly against India in Adelaide on Thursday.
England’s positive and explosive batting approach has paid dividends so far in the tournament
So Pakistan will be a big threat but, as I said after the semi-final, if England play as they did against India they can beat any side.
They played the perfect game on Thursday and Pakistan will know they cannot be below par in any way.
This is a battle of the strongest attack in the tournament, in Pakistan, against the best batting line-up, in England. I fancy Jos Buttler and his side to avenge that 1992 50-over final defeat on this same ground. But once they get that cornered tigers mentality, you would be a fool to write off Pakistan.
PAKISTAN: PLAYERS TO WATCH
Shaheen Shah Afridi
The left-arm paceman is getting early wickets again with the new ball, which he can swing.
The MCG has offered movement in this World Cup and there should be bounce, too.
Shaheen is nearly fully fit now and his speeds are up, but whether he will be ready to play in the Test series against England next month remains to be seen.
Babar and Rizwan
I can’t separate Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan because they come as a pair.
They are hugely consistent and if they don’t fire Pakistan’s batting looks weak.
But if they get their side off to a good start, as they did in the semi-final against New Zealand in Sydney, then everything else falls into place. Both batsmen have to push a little harder against England.
I like Shadab as a cricketer. He is three-dimensional and bowled his leg-spin beautifully in the group game at the SCG against South Africa.
He’s excellent in the field and pulled off the crucial run-out of Devon Conway in the semi-final. And he gives the ball a good belt when he comes in. It strikes me that he likes the big occasion. A cool, calculated, calm character.
Dismissing Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan could be the key to stopping Pakistan