Preview: Ireland vs Pakistan
It all comes down to this: Ireland meet Pakistan at the Adelaide Oval on Sunday morning (0330 Irish time). Ahead of the game, CricketEurope takes a look at the Pakistanis, their star players, and the venue.
Form guide: Pakistan
Recent ODI form (most recent first): W W W L L
In a word, unpredictable. We’re now at a stage in proceedings where form before the World Cup does not matter and where form in the earlier days of the group stage might not matter either.
The Pakistanis started by losing convincingly to India by 76 runs (also at Adelaide). This was followed by an embarrassing trashing at the hands of the West Indies by 150 runs at Christchurch. Then the Pakistanis scraped past Zimbabwe by 20 runs at the Gabba, before thumping the UAE by 129 runs at Napier. Most recently, the Pakistanis recorded a thrilling 29-run victory over the South Africans at Auckland, defending a DL par score of 231 on a good pitch in a very small stadium.
Not without reason, then, are some commentators beginning to compare this Pakistani team to Imran’s ‘cornered tigers’ of the 1992 campaign, but the age-old question remains: which Pakistan will show up?
The Pakistanis are missing at least two of their best players at this World Cup: Mohammad Hafeez suffered a calf injury early in February, while the off-spinner Saeed Ajmal (currently ranked #1 in the world) did not have his action ‘cleared’ by the ICC in time to make the Pakistani squad. Still, there are numerous match-winners within their squad.
Misbah-ul-Haq. The archetypal late-bloomer, the 40-year-old Pakistani skipper is one of the most consistent batsmen in world cricket. He is currently ranked #13 in ODIs and even if his failure to turn fifties into hundreds (0% conversion from 42 attempts) frustrates his fans, he remains the pivot on which Pakistan’s batting turns. In this World Cup he has 277 runs at 55.40, with four half-centuries in five innings.
Younus Khan. Perhaps the best Pakistani batsman since Javed Miandad, Younus has been not been a regular fixture in the ODI set-up for some time, which is reflected in his current world ranking of #102. He was also dropped earlier in the group stage following failures against India and the West Indies. Yet he was recalled for the South Africa match and scored a vital 37.
Wahab Riaz. A genuinely fast left-armer, Wahab is a wicket-taker: his strike rate in ODIs of 32.8 more than compensates for his rather generous economy rate of 5.63. On the relatively fast and bouncy pitches in Australia, Misbah’s employment of Wahab as a strike bowler has been rewarded with 11 wickets at 23.63. A dangerous batsman, too, Wahab’s 54* rescued Pakistan against Zimbabwe.
Mohammad Irfan. The only Pakistani bowler in the world’s ODI top ten, Mohammad Irfan has taken 8 wickets at 23.25 in the World Cup so far, and at the miserly economy rate of 4.53. Standing at 7’1”, he has flourished on the bouncy antipodean pitches and the Irish mettle against the short ball will be almost certainly tested by the left-armer.
Shahid Afridi. The former Irish overseas player needs little introduction: his 8000 ODI runs, 395 wickets, and his reputation speak for themselves. His form, however, has been patchy: since the start of 2014 Afridi has averaged 27.63 with the bat and 48.75 with the ball. Yet the potential remains; on his day, he wins the match for Pakistan.
Head to head
Pakistan and Ireland have met five times in ODIs, with the Pakistanis winning three of those matches, Ireland winning one, and the other being tied.
The first ODI encounter was that famous Irish victory in Jamaica, but that is almost irrelevant now: only Porterfield and the O’Briens remain from 2007, while Younus Khan is the only Pakistani survivor.
Four years later, Pakistan visited Stormont for a couple of ODIs. In the first, Junaid Khan and Saeed Ajmal routed the Irish for 96, which was knocked off easily for the loss of three wickets. The second match was much more competitive: the Irish posted 238-8, thanks almost entirely to Paul Stirling’s 109 from 107 balls. A very professional run chase, however, saw the Pakistanis home by five wickets: Umar Akmal made an unbeaten 60, while Younus Khan top-scored with 64.
The most recent meetings came in a 2-match series in Dublin in 2013. The Irish tied the first, chasing 275 under Duckworth-Lewis. Paul Stirling smashed 103 off 97 balls and Kevin O’Brien an unbeaten 84 from only 47, but a tie it was. In the second match Ed Joyce played one of the finest innings in Irish colours, crafting an unbeaten 116 out of a total of 229-9. The Irish then reduced Pakistan to 17-4 and then 133-7, but 83 from Kamran Akmal and a brutal 47* off 35 balls from Wahab Riaz saw the visitors home by 2 wickets with 8 balls to spare.
Even those matches in 2013, however, have limited relevance to Sunday morning: such has been the turnover in Pakistani personnel that only three men who took the field in Dublin are likely to be involved in Adelaide.
Individually, several of the Irish squad have enjoyed significant success against Pakistan. Alex Cusack, Ireland’s best bowler by a mile in the tournament so far, has taken 8-154 at less than five an over, while Kevin O’Brien has picked up five wickets himself. With the bat, Joyce has a century, Stirling has two, and both O’Briens have unbeaten half-centuries.
As for the Pakistanis, Mohammad Hafeez and Kamran Akmal, their leading run-scorers against Ireland, will not be involved in Adelaide, while Junaid Khan and Saeed Ajmal – Pakistan’s leading bowlers against the Irish – will likewise be absent. In fact, no Pakistani bowler likely to play on Sunday has ever taken more than a single wicket against Ireland.
The Adelaide Oval, that venerable old ground, has had a reputation for slow and almost subcontinental pitches over the years; its one-day pitches, however, are generally faster than those prepared for the longer formats. Formerly a throwback to simpler days, with grass banks and an ‘open-air’ feel, the Oval has now been renovated to join the ranks of increasingly anonymous modern stadia. Another significant feature of the ground is the disparity in the length of its boundaries: it’s probably the longest in the world going straight, but among the shortest square of the wicket. Here are the stats for the last 11 ODIs at the ground, dating back to 2010:
73% of teams win the toss and bat first
55% of matches are won batting first
Average score batting first: 248
Average runs per wicket (across both innings): 31.44
Average runs per over (across both innings): 5.08
Notably, this is both the lowest- and slowest-scoring venue visited by the Irish so far.
The Pakistanis have a world-class bowling line-up but a shaky top-order and a relatively long tail. Moreover, their tall left-armers might not find as much joy on the traditionally slow and flat pitches of the Adelaide Oval. The Irish, meanwhile, have a more than decent record against Pakistan, but – again – such records might not be relevant: Adelaide will present entirely different conditions to those experienced in Jamaica in 2007 and during the four subsequent matches in Ireland, while so few of the Pakistani squad have ever played against Ireland that many are stepping into uncharted territory.
Even so, the Irish would have targeted this match even before the group stage began: with so much on the line, so much can happen.