England have been magnificent so far this summer. Were it not for a blip against South Africa before the Champions Trophy started, their ODI form in England could arguably be described as perfect. Rarely have they looked troubled, and they have picked up win after win with their positive brand of cricket continuing to shine through. They play Pakistan at Cardiff tomorrow in the first semi-final of the ICC Champions Trophy, and few are betting against them.
It is with good reason that England came into the tournaments as, in many people’s eyes, favourites. Not only are the home conditions favourable, but the hosts’ form since their dramatic turnaround two years ago has been incredible. They have scored runs at the fastest rate in world cricket, found some very effective ODI bowlers, and fielded like the modern athletes they are. Their captain is in superb from, and they have some of the best cricketers in the world; add to that the close-knit nature of the group, and it’s no wonder they’ve been talked about in such a positive manner.
Few, therefore, would bet against them reaching the final of this year’s Champions Trophy. Eoin Morgan and Ben Stokes put Australia to the sword over the weekend, Mark Wood, Liam Plunkett and Jake Ball are all in good form, and Joe Root is simply Joe Root. The Cardiff pitch should suit England’s bowlers, too. If they can find the same length they did against New Zealand, Pakistan’s batsmen could be in for a torrid time. Graeme Swann has spoken at length about England’s cross-seam tactic on that wicket and, seemingly, it has been very effective thus far.
Pakistan, meanwhile, have lived up to their reputation. While they have shown flashes of brilliance, such as their bowling performance against South Africa and Sri Lanka, there have been plenty of underwhelming moments too. Their batting line up seems unpredictable to say the least, and their bowlers really struggled against India. Even the Sri Lanka game represents something of a microcosm of their recent history. Their standards throughout the game were constantly fluctuating, and one has to wonder whether a better, more confident side might have made them pay for it. For long periods of Monday’s match, it looked like Angelo Matthews’ men would be preparing for tomorrow’s showdown.
Cause for Concern?
All of this, then, seems to point towards a comfortable victory for the hosts. It should, however, be acknowledged that there are still one or two uncertainties for this England side. Chief among these is the form of Jason Roy. The opener looks set to be replaced by Jonny Bairstow tomorrow, despite the public backing he received from Morgan prior to the tournament. Whether Morgan was right to come out and state so openly that Roy’s place was secure is largely immaterial for now, the question is whether Bairstow can effectively replace Roy. In terms of form and ability alone, the short answer would be ‘yes’. Bairstow is one of England’s best batsmen who would, under normal circumstances, have been a permanent fixture in their side. The form of England’s middle-order batsmen has been working against him, though, and herein lies the first issue. If Bairstow is to replace Roy, he will likely have to bat out of position. Unless there is some significant re-shuffling, which I would strongly advise against, he will have to open up. This might prove very effective; after all, Roy’s poor form gives him something close to a ‘nothing to lose’ situation tomorrow. That said, Roy still remains capable of putting in match-winning performances. If the rumours are true, then it’s undoubtedly a big call from England. Whether it’s the right call or not remains to be seen.
Pakistan can also provide surprises. They have players who, on their day, can win games. Their bowling line up is actually very strong, with Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Amir, and Hasan Ali make up a very strong trio of quick bowlers, and England will have to play very well to win. Should Pakistan take early wickets, however, one or two doubts might begin to creep in. England recovered from a collapse against Australia, but weren’t able to do so after Kagiso Rabada and Wayne Parnell took them apart before the tournament began.
The only other slight question mark over England concerns their bowlers. They did go for a lot of runs against Bangladesh, and that could be a mild cause for concern. If they don’t get it right, England are a relatively one-dimensional side now that David Willey isn’t featuring. This point really is being ultra-critical, though, which is testimony to the levels Morgan’s men have been reaching. As previously mentioned, the bowling attack has been extremely effective recently, especially in Cardiff.
All in all, we look set for a fascinating contest. England rightly start as huge favourites, but Pakistan are perfectly capable of providing us with a surprise result.
Hopefully the next piece will come a little sooner. The trials of a working life have made more frequent updates a little tricky!