Cricket World Cup 2019: Steve Smith's duel with Shadab Khan and other key battles for Australia vs Pakistan

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Smith's battle with Shadab will be a fascinating one.

The 17th match of the 2019 ICC World Cup in England promises to be a treat – weather permitting – with defending champions Australia set to take on Pakistan at Taunton on Wednesday.

It will be the 10th meeting of the two sides at the World Cup level and there has been little to choose between them previously. While Australia have won five of the nine World Cup meetings so far, Pakistan have prevailed in four.

Wednesday’s clash could very well come down to the minutest of margins and will depend on several intriguing sub-plots. Here, we look at the three key individual battles which could prove to be decisive at Taunton.

AMIR V WARNER

Much was expected from David Warner at the World Cup as the left-hander prepared to make his international comeback after a one-year absence. His stupendous showings in the IPL recently would have given the opening batsman plenty of confidence but he comes into Wednesday’s clash on the back of a disappointing showing against India.

Warner’s scratchy innings of 56 from 84 deliveries was a pain to watch at times with Australia attempting to chase a mammoth 353 and the southpaw was also responsible for running out his skipper Aaron Finch. He will be desperate to make amends for that poor show after being criticised from all quarters and will want to serve a reminder of his attacking prowess.

Stopping him early in his tracks will be important for Pakistan and they will hope that Mohammad Amir can do the trick for them. The left-armed pacer had been off colour for nearly two years while heading into the World Cup but has started to show signs of getting back to his very best.

Amir has claimed five wickets already in two outings so far and will be in confident mood for the Australia clash.

Warner will want to make amends for his display against India.

Warner will want to make amends for his display against India.

BABAR V CUMMINS

There is no doubt that Babar Azam is the linchpin with the bat for Pakistan with the 24-year-old starting to emerge as one of the most prolific ODI batsmen in the game currently.

The right-hander’s consistency continues to touch new heights and it is no surprise that he is averaging over 51 after playing 66 ODIs for Pakistan so far. The top-order batsman has been in good form in the World Cup as well and scored a fine 63 in his side’s stunning win over hosts and favourites England.

Babar, however, will have his task cut out against Pat Cummins who has been equally consistent with the ball for Australia over the past two years. The 26-year-old pacer bowls with plenty of heart and knows how to hit the right spots to get batsmen in trouble. He has been a steady performer for the Aussies in this World Cup with six wickets in three outings and he will be the biggest threat to Pakistan’s top-order including Babar.

Babar holds the key with the bat for Pakistan.

Babar holds the key with the bat for Pakistan.

SHADAB V SMITH

Wrist-spin has emerged as one of the best wicket-taking threats of late in ODI cricket and Pakistan have an excellent proponent of its art in the form of Shadab Khan. The young leg-spinner has stellar numbers in the format with 49 wickets in 36 outings while going at an economy-rate of less than five runs an over.

Shadab has all the variations in his arsenal to flummox the best of batsmen and he will be tasked with the job of stopping Australia’s Steve Smith.

Smith is one of the better players of spin in Australia’s squad and is capable of anchoring the innings for his side. He has been in superb form with the bat since making his return to international cricket and comes into Wednesday’s clash after registering back-to-back fifties against West Indies and India.

His battle with Shadab is bound to be an intriguing one and could decide the final outcome.

Shadab's leg-spin is crucial to Pakistan's hopes.

Shadab’s leg-spin is crucial to Pakistan’s hopes.

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Cricket World Cup 2019: Virat Kohli defending Steve Smith a hit but absence of reserve days a huge miss

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The second week of the 2019 World Cup has been exciting and distressing in equal measure. While we have seen some superb performances with bat and ball, the unforgiving English weather has resulted in three rained-off games.

England smashed a record 386-6 against Bangladesh while India amassed 352-5 against the Aussies. Sri Lanka, unfortunately, have seen two of their games washed out, which won’t bring them any cheer.

Amid all the highs and lows, we look at decisions and strategies that hit the mark or missed. Here are our picks from the second week.

HIT: Kohli coming to Smith’s rescue

Yes, this does not pertain to scoring runs or taking wickets. But the decision by India captain Virat Kohli to take matters into his own hand and stop Indian fans from jeering Australia batsman Steve Smith was incredible and timely.

Smith was booed and called a ‘cheater’ by a section of the largely Indian crowd at The Oval. The Aussies have been expecting it but Kohli decided to put an end to it, even going as far as apologising to Smith.

It must be remembered Kohli stopped short of calling Smith a cheat during the ill-tempered Test series in India in 2017 for seeking the dressing room’s assistance for a decision review. For Kohli to now come to his rescue means most fans, including English supporters during the Ashes, will be inclined to let Smith put the ball-tampering scandal behind.

MISS: Lack of reserve days

The Bangladesh-Sri Lanka game was washed out.

The Bangladesh-Sri Lanka game was washed out.

Sixteen matches in and we have had three washouts. This is already a record for a World Cup and we are not even half-way through the tournament.

The ICC tried to defend their decision to not have reserve days for the league phase, stating that doing so would be a logistical nightmare with arrangements required for additional staff, accommodation, volunteers and officials.

Well, the 1999 World Cup had reserve days for non-knockout matches. Does the ICC mean it is better to have no matches at all than make arrangements for a reserve day and mitigate the loss?

More matches are certain to be rained off. And with each passing day and rain cloud, the ICC’s decision is looking like a monumental failure.

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Cricket World Cup 2019: Lockie Ferguson desperate to avoid rained-out clash against India

Sport360 staff 12/06/2019
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New Zealand pacer Lockie Ferguson.

New Zealand pacer Lockie Ferguson is desperate to avoid a washed-out game against India when the two sides meet in a 2019 ICC World Cup clash at Trent Bridge on Thursday.

Three matches in the ongoing World Cup have already been washed out due to inclement weather and the forecast for Thursday’s clash is not looking too bright either with heavy rains forecast throughout the day.

The Kiwis are currently perched on top of the team standings with three wins in as many games and a no-result against India will not be the worst outcome. Still, Ferguson is eager to test his skills against a formidable India side who are being considered as one of the favourites for the title.

“We want to play,” the New Zealand pacer stated.

“It’s the World Cup. We’re playing against India in the World Cup and it’s an opportunity to get two points and we don’t want to get rained-out games.

“I don’t think any players do but if that happens then so be it. We can’t control that but we’re looking forward to playing India and getting some confidence against them.”

India thrashed hosts New Zealand by 4-1 in an ODI series earlier this year and Ferguson is relishing the challenge to bowl at them once again.

“I think taking wickets up front is the key to beating India but, if not, creating pressure and building dots,” he said.

“They’re world-class players, you’re not going to blow them out of the water, but if you can build up enough pressure against them and then create a half-chance, that could be the wicket and you can then build from there.

“Obviously, they’re playing some great cricket and they’re one of the top teams in the competition but we’re definitely looking forward to the opportunity of playing them in England and we haven’t played them for a while in England.”

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