Following a disappointing defeat to India, Pakistan’s ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup journey has been a rollercoaster, with a victorious start against Sri Lanka and the Netherlands.
Concerns Over Key Players’ Performance
Despite the mixed results, the performance of some key players, particularly strike bowler Afridi, has raised eyebrows. Hasan Ali, in a media interaction on Thursday, attributed Afridi’s dip in form to health issues. The 23-year-old is among several Pakistan players grappling with health concerns.
“Health and injury are beyond one’s control. It’s just a bout of flu, and we hope to recover soon,” Hasan stated, expressing confidence in Afridi’s ability to bounce back.
“Shaheen has been instrumental in many of Pakistan’s victories. Although he is not in his best shape right now, he will soon be back. He is a champion and has delivered numerous stellar performances for Pakistan.”
Afridi’s Impact on Australia’s Top Order
Afridi’s performance could be crucial in penetrating Australia’s top order in the upcoming Friday’s game. However, Aussie captain Pat Cummins admits he hasn’t been closely monitoring the Pakistani pacer’s fitness and performance.
“To be honest, I haven’t been watching too much, so I can’t really comment on that. But he’s always a good competitor. He’s always a threat up front. So yeah, hopefully he’s keeping quiet tomorrow.”
Uncertainty Over Shaheen’s Fitness for Friday’s Match
Shaheen’s fitness for Friday’s match remains uncertain. However, Hasan revealed that most of the squad trained ahead of the game in Bengaluru, with only Fakhar Zaman ruled out due to a knee issue.
“The remaining 14 players are available. The rest… I am not the captain, so I can’t tell you more about that.”
Hasan’s Role in the Tournament
Hasan, Pakistan’s leading wicket-taker in the tournament with seven wickets in three matches, wasn’t a guaranteed presence in the starting XI before Naseem Shah’s injury. The 29-year-old has been handling the middle overs for Pakistan and is content with his role in a bowling attack that could potentially define the tournament.
“I think that (Naseem Shah) is the only change in the bowling line-up. One person has changed and that too due to an injury,” Hasan added.
“I have been given the role to play the new ball and the middle overs – if you see I have taken quite a few wickets in the middle overs. That’s the role that I am playing.
“The skill of the bowler – like my skill – my inswing, outswing, bouncer, whatever skill I have, I will try to use it to take a wicket. So far wickets are falling in the middle overs – if you see in all the previous matches, runs are made in the beginning but then suddenly the batting line-up collapses. That’s what has been seen in the World Cup till now.”
The Importance of Dominating the Middle Overs
Cummins concurs that the team that dominates the middle overs in Bengaluru is likely to emerge victorious.
“Most games of ODI cricket are won in those middle overs, either by not conceding wickets when you’re batting or trying to get a few breakthroughs with the ball,” the Australia skipper noted.
“So, yeah, it’s an area of the game that we spend a lot of time on how to navigate through. If you feel like it’s a good opportunity to attack, then go for it. But if it feels like maybe a moment that you just need to bide your time and set up for the back end, that’s also okay.”
The Race for Semi-Final Spots
A victory for either team would significantly boost their chances of advancing to the knockout stages of the World Cup. However, the recent losses of South Africa to the Netherlands and England to Afghanistan have leveled the playing field in the race for the semi-final spots.
“I mean it’s good, I won’t lie,” said Cummins, whose team lost their two opening matches in India. “I think it just evens all the teams out really. They (Netherlands) played really well; we’ve got them after this game.
“I think what we’re seeing in this tournament is, it’s ten really strong sides. It’s not sides that are just making up numbers. They’ve all qualified and they’re all here because they’ve earned their spot. So yeah, there’s no easy games. Everything’s pretty full on.”