“It is the best bowling attack in the tournament against the best batting line-up.”
Those the words of Sky Sports Cricket’s Nasser Hussain as Pakistan and England prepare for Sunday’s T20 World Cup final in Melbourne (8am UK time weather permitting).
Pakistan’s ultra-talented and varied bowling unit, with includes slick left-arm quick Shaheen Shah Afridi and leg-spinner Shadab Khan, have not been taken for more than 160 in the tournament.
England’s brutal and deep batting line-up plundered 179 against New Zealand and then cantered to a target of 169 against India in Thursday’s semi-final with 24 balls to spare.
‘Batting line-up’ is actually a bit misleading with regards to the victory over India with only openers Jos Buttler and Alex Hales required – Buttler contributing 80 from 49 balls, including the match-winning six, and Hales 86 from 47 in a record T20 World Cup stand.
The battle between England’s batters and Pakistan’s pinpoint pacemen and shrewd spinners will be fascinating to watch – if the rain stays away and allows for a game to be contested.
Speaking on the Sky Sports Cricket Podcast, former England captain Eoin Morgan said: “If Pakistan get through the bulk of England’s runs – Hales and Buttler – they will ask questions.
“Each one of their pacers bowls upwards of 90mph, it’s quick stuff, and they also have a wrist-spinner in Shadab. They will try and bowl England out as if England bat well for 20 overs they score 200 or more and I don’t see Pakistan chasing it down.”
Shadab and Shaheen have 10 wickets each, while Haris Rauf, who can bowl at the speed of light but also has an array of slower balls, has collected six and Mohammad Wasim seven. Of that group, only Rauf has gone at over seven runs an over across the tournament, with Naseem Shah going at just six.
Hussain added: “India had to get above par with their bowling attack but Pakistan will feel that if they get a par score [that might be enough] with their bowling attack.
“Their bowling has kept them in this tournament, not their batting line-up. There is that new-ball threat and they haven’t gone around the park against anybody.”
Pakistan have picked up regular powerplay wickets in this tournament, starting when they snared three against India in that remarkable game at the MCG on October 23.
They took two in the first six overs against New Zealand in Wednesday’s first semi-final in Sydney and early scalps on Sunday could expose an England middle order with tremendous talent but little time at the crease of late.
Phil Salt, set to bat at No 3 if Dawid Malan’s groin injury sidelines him once more, had only a watching brief against India as Buttler and Hales slammed India for a combined 23 boundaries.
Salt is yet to face a ball in the tournament. Ben Stokes has faced just 55 – 36 of them as he guided England to the nervy win over Sri Lanka that sealed a semi-final spot. Liam Livingstone 43. Harry Brook 35. Moeen Ali 33. Pakistan will be hoping they can catch them cold.
“England’s middle order have not faced a lot of balls and with the weather around, there will be something on offer regardless of what the wicket is like. If you lose the toss and find yourself three down, that’s the way Pakistan will beat England – if they can.”
Getting through Buttler and Hales could be Pakistan’s problem, though, with England’s top two astonishingly good against India on Thursday and amassing 410 runs between them at the World Cup.
Buttler has 199 runs at an average of 49.75 and a strike-rate of 143.16, while Hales has 211 at an average of 52.75 and strike-rate of 148.59. The openers’ form has been one of the main reasons England’s middle-order men have not had a chance to find theirs.
England’s middle order haven’t had much of a hit but they seem like confident players and know Pakistan’s attack. We also saw against Sri Lanka that when you need someone in a crunch situation in the highest of high-pressure situations Stokes is worth his weight in gold.
Pakistan’s top two, Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan, have been astonishingly good over the years but not so in this tournament. Not until New Zealand came along.
Babar averaged below eight in the Super 12 stage with four single-figure dismissals out of five, while Rizwan was unable to register a fifty, topping out with 49 against Netherlands.
That changed against the Black Caps, though, as Babar and Rizwan each hit half-centuries during their ninth century partnership in T20 international cricket. No other pair has more hundred stands and no other pair has more than their 2,509 runs in unison.
Babar and Rizwan take a different approach to Buttler and Hales. For them, it’s more about accumulation rather than instant destruction, which lays a fine foundation when it comes off but can leave the middle order with a lot to do when it doesn’t.
Most century partnerships in T20I cricket
- Babar Azam, Mohammad Rizwan (Pakistan) – 9
- KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma (India) – 5
- Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma (India) – 4
- Martin Guptill, Kane Williamson (NZ) – 4
- Aaron Finch, David Warner (Australia) – 4
Both fell before victory was clinched against the Black Caps, as did 21-year-old Mohammad Haris, but only after playing a third boundary-filled cameo in as many matches.
Hussain said: “Babar and Rizwan will play a little bit old-fashioned and will chew up deliveries. If those two go well, then the middle order [will feel more comfortable].
“Haris has given them the arrogance and swagger of youth – he doesn’t fear the situation and could smash 50 off 20 balls and take the game away from you.”
He could – but you sense the game may rest on the battle between the best bowling attack and the best batting line-up.
Watch England vs Pakistan in the T20 World Cup final live on Sky Sports Cricket on Sunday. Build-up gets under way at 7am ahead of an 8am start at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.