By Nishad Pai Vaidya
It’s the final day of the Super Eights of the ICC World T20 2012 today, with the semi-final spots up for grabs. Such has been the contest that four teams – Australia, Pakistan, India and South Africa - find themselves vying for the two remaining slots in the semis. While Australia are comfortably placed and are near certainties, India and Pakistan are in must-win situations. On the other hand, the Proteas have to register a win over India and need a bit of good luck to have a chance of qualifying.
It is interesting to note that Pakistan – one of the more consistent and dangerous sides in T20 internationals – find themselves in a tough situation. They have made it to the semi-finals of all the previous World T20s - and in the finals on two occasions - and one would have expected them to go through more easily this time around. However, they can take inspiration from their 2010 campaign – where they won their last Super Eights encounter to seal a semi-finals spot.
In the high-pressure game against India, Pakistan committed numerous lapses in all the departments. Their batting was abysmal as the batsmen never got into their groove, while the bowling lacked the usual discipline and penetration. And their fielding was absolutely poor. Perhaps the occasion got to them and they were trying too hard to make things happen. With that pressure off, they must aim to play more freely and express themselves.
Traditionally, Pakistan have always been a side that has performed well with the odds against them and have had the habit of clawing their way back into contests. In 1992, the Imran Khan led side came back from a hopeless situation to lift the trophy. They have displayed such remarkable spirit on numerous occasions and it would be a mistake to write them off – even though they are playing the formidable Australians.
In the current situation, Pakistan can ill-afford lapses in the field. They have to tighten that area as they have been conceding too many runs. Their world-class bowling attack needs the support of its fielders to create pressure on the opposition. Bowlers like Umar Gul and Saeed Ajmal can strangle the opposition and that can only happen if they have the support of their fielders.
The Pakistani batting has had two mediocre games in the Super Eights. An Umar Gul-led fightback remarkably sealed a victory over South Africa and in the next game they were rattled by India. Mohammad Hafeez was too slow in the last game and he needs to up the ante early on. Imran Nazir is a bit of an enigma – the talent has always been obvious, but the consistency is missing. If he can play the first five to six overs – Pakistan would get a good start and a foundation to build upon.
Nasir Jamshed has been impressive and holds the key at number three. He seems to be naturally talented and can hit the ball a long way with minimal effort. The move to promote Shahid Afridi in the last game was a positive one – but as has been the case for quite some time, he was dismissed early. There is no dearth of power in this line-up with the likes of Shoaib Malik, Kamran Akmal and Umar Akmal forming a dangerous trio in the middle order.
Pakistan’s biggest trump card is undoubtedly be Saeed Ajmal. The two teams played each other in a bilateral series in the United Arab Emirates before the World T20 and he was a dominant force there. Ajmal was the man-of-the series as he delivered fantastic spells in three consecutive games. Consider this – his figures in the three games read as follows: two for 13, two for 20 and two for 19. An economy rate under seven is considered good in T20 cricket, but here is a man who dominated the opposition and didn’t concede runs at more than five an over.
With the form Shane Watson is in, Pakistan must aim to dismiss him early otherwise a fifth consecutive man-of-the-match award is on the cards. After Pakistan win this game, they would keep a close eye on India’s match against South Africa. Pakistan can only do what is in their hands and hope for the best. India on the other hand would know what is required of them before they commence their final game. A Pakistan win would give them a certain margin, whereas an Australian victory makes it a clear-cut task for India.
All eyes are on Colombo’s Premadasa Stadium.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar's dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_44)