We are left with the final four at the ICC T20 World Cup 2021. England will take on New Zealand in the first semifinal in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday (November 10). Australia will meet Pakistan on Thursday (November 11) in Dubai in a rematch of their iconic semi-final of the 2010 T20 World Cup in the Caribbean.
Babar Azam’s Pakistan is the only unbeaten side heading into the knockout stages at this year’s competition. They certainly start as strong favorites against Australia. Aaron Finch’s Australia were blown away by England in their third Super 12 encounter. However, they bounced back strongly against Bangladesh and West Indies to earn themselves a spot in the semifinals.
Pakistan’s batting has been propelled by their openers Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan. It has been a feature of their performances so far at this year’s T20 World Cup. Opting to bat first in their final two Super 12 encounters against Namibia and Scotland, Pakistan seemed to have ticked all the boxes leading into their semi-final clash against Australia.
Azam and Rizwan’s consistency at the top, Mohammad Hafeez’s stability in the middle order and Asif Ali and Shoaib Malik’s ferocious finishes in the death overs - Pakistan certainly seem to possess a strong batting template to go all the way at this year’s marquee event.
With team Pakistan in blistering form, Australia have a monumental task to overcome if they fancy beating Azam’s unbeaten side on Thursday.
On that note, let’s take a closer look at three factors Finch’s side needs to focus on to stand any chance of upsetting an in-form Pakistan team.
#3 Dismiss both the openers Azam and Rizwan relatively cheaply
Having scored 264 runs in 5 matches, Babar Azam is the highest run-getter so far at this year’s T20 World Cup. His opening partner Rizwan is not too far behind, accumulating 214 runs in as many matches for his side.
Azam and Rizwan have been the fulcrum of Pakistan’s batting order so far at this year’s competition. Their consistent and controlled aggression at the top has ensured that Pakistan have always got off to a decent start, setting up a platform for the rest of the batsmen to flourish.
Pakistan’s opening duo have put on two century stands so far at this year’s competition and at least one of them has always gone on to notch up big scores throughout their Super 12 encounters.
As they prepare for the semifinal clash, Australia should be wary of Pakistan’s openers. They must find a way to dismiss both openers cheaply to bolster their chances of overcoming Pakistan's challenge.
If Australia can succeed in seeing the backs of both openers within the powerplay, that will put serious pressure on Pakistan’s middle-order.
With Australia preferring to open with pace, the onus will be on Mitchell Starc to bamboozle Pakistan’s openers with his raw pace. Starc has been impressive so far at this year’s tournament, claiming 7 wickets off his 5 matches.
The right-arm leg-spinner Adam Zampa is Australia’s most successful bowler with 11 wickets to his name so far at this year’s T20 World Cup. With right handers Azam and Rizwan being the most precious wickets, Finch can exploit this matchup to his advantage by tossing the ball to his most successful bowler Zampa.
#2 David Warner and Aaron Finch need to provide Australia a stable opening stand
Due to his poor run of form at this year's IPL, David Warner was under tremendous pressure leading into this year’s T20 World Cup. But the southpaw has answered his critics impressively with the bat so far at this year’s competition.
His unbeaten 89 against West Indies and his knock of 65 runs against Sri Lanka in the Super 12 encounters should give him confidence.
Australia are an altogether different side when their openers fire, especially Warner. Against Pakistan in the semifinals, they will need Finch and Warner to shine at the top and provide them with a stable opening stand to put Pakistan’s bowlers under pressure.
India and Afghanistan lost early wickets in the powerplay against Pakistan, thereby giving Babar Azam’s bowlers an edge. Australia lost Warner cheaply against England and South Africa and their circumspect middle order was exposed by opposition bowling.
Against a strong Pakistan bowling line-up, Australia cannot afford to lose early wickets. The onus is on Warner and Finch not only to provide their side with a quickfire start, but also to provide stability. They need to set a decent platform for middle and lower order batsmen to explode.
With Imad Wasim and Shadab Khan turning the ball into Warner and left-arm pacer Shaheen Afridi in Pakistan’s ranks, the southpaw can be Australia’s x-factor. He can propel them to an outstanding start if he finds his rhythm.
#1 Control and squeeze Pakistan’s batting by taking wickets in the middle overs
Apart from Rizwan and Azam’s success at the top, the way Pakistan have batted in the middle overs has been instrumental in their success so far.
With Azam and Rizwan providing stability at the top, Pakistan have consolidated clinically in the middle overs. It has set a great platform for the finishers to launch an onslaught towards the end.
Five out of Pakistan’s top six are right handers which makes Adam Zampa Australia’s go to bowler in the middle overs. With Pakistan’s side packed with right-handers, Australia’s team management can contemplate over recalling left-arm off-spinner Ashton Agar as well.
During the middle overs, Australia should not only stem the flow of runs, but also chip in with wickets at regular intervals to squeeze Pakistan’s batting. The in-form Zampa and Agar certainly possess all the tools to turn the tide in Australia’s favor in the middle overs.
Babar Azam’s side bats deep. The only way Finch’s side can contain Pakistan is by taking wickets which makes bowling in middle overs. It is extremely vital for Australia if they fancy beating an in-form Pakistan team.
The ICC T20 World Cup is the only global white-ball tournament that Australia have so far failed to win in their glorious cricketing history. Having said that, Australia escaped the jaws of defeat to beat Pakistan by 3 wickets in the semifinals of the 2010 edition of the event. It came courtesy of a superhuman performance by Michael Hussey in St. Lucia.
While Pakistan start as favorites, Australia can draw inspiration from their semi-final win against the same side in 2010. Australia-Pakistan clashes have always been thrillers in the past, producing plenty of excitement for the fans. It will be intriguing and absorbing to witness how this semi-final episode of their rivalry unfolds in Dubai on Thursday. An unbeaten Pakistan will eye their 3rd ICC T20 World Cup final.