In a rare occurrence, Pakistan managed to win four consecutive games to earn a place in the World Cup quarter-finals where they will take on the mighty Australians, one of the strongest teams in the tournament and a huge favourite to lift the trophy.
Pakistan's record against Australia in ODIs is nothing to write home about, but the way Pakistan have turned around their performance in this World Cup, no one should count them out either.
The overall record between the two sides present a lopsided picture. In the past 10 years, since January 1, 2005, the record is even worse.
Out of Pakistan's five wins in the past 10 years, only one has come in ODIs played in Australia. That victory came 10 years ago in January 2005 (It should be noted though that Pakistan has not played against Australia in Australia for 5 years).
There is no respite for Pakistan even in Adelaide, where they will play the quarter-final. On a pitch, which is considered more subcontinental than Australian, Pakistan has won only one ODI against Australia, and lost five. That win came 20 years ago.
Pakistanis will feel intimidated by just looking at the above record. Australia have totally dominated Pakistan in ODIs. But then they have dominated most teams.
However, I believe that it is more important to look at performances of the two teams in World Cup matches, rather than the overall record. After all, Pakistan dominates India in ODIs overall, however, when it comes to World Cups, Pakistan have never been able to beat them. Similarly, despite the poor overall record against Australia, Pakistan matches more evenly with them when it comes to World Cups.
In all World Cups, the two teams have met 8 times with both Pakistan and Australia winning four ODIs each. When this record is compared to that of Australia's record against other teams in World Cup matches, it is even more impressive. Australia has clearly been the most dominant team in World Cups, but there are two teams that they have not dominated like others - West Indies and Pakistan.
No one has beaten Australia more times than the West Indies and Pakistan in World Cup matches. For West Indies, the stronger record is a result of their dominance in the first three World Cups, which saw West Indies beat Australia on four occasions. Since then, they have managed to beat Australia only once in a World Cup match.
For Pakistan, on the other hand, the record is more recent with three of Pakistan's four wins against Australia coming in the past five World Cups since 1992. In all World Cups between 1992 and 2011, a period which witnessed Australia play four World Cup finals and win three, Pakistan is the only team that has beaten Australia on more occasions than they have lost. Pakistan has the best record against Australia in World Cup matches since 1992 among all teams.
Australia are one of the favorites to win the World Cup 2015. They are one of the strongest sides of the tournament as well. But if there is one team that can beat them in the knockouts, it is Pakistan. Not only because of the past record, but also because of the way Pakistan's campaign has peaked at just the right moment. Pakistan has been on a roll and have won four games in a row, including the one against South Africa, which should give them ample confidence going into their quarterfinal against Australia. The Australians will not be taking Pakistan lightly, and neither should the public.
A closer look at Pakistan's four World Cup wins against Australia shows that three of the four wins came while batting first, posting a total of over 220, and bowling Australia out. The one win while chasing was when Pakistan managed to bowl Australia out for 176. Pakistan have lost to Australia only once after batting first; in the World Cup final in 1999, when Pakistan were bundled out for 132. It is no surprise that Pakistan's other three losses to them have been when Australia has posted a total in excess of 265 and Pakistan has failed to chase.
It is interesting to note that Pakistan's three wins over Australia while batting first had three key factors that worked for Pakistan.
- Fluent opening
- Strong middle order partnership
- Aggressive fast bowling
Sarfraz Ahmed's presence at the top of the order has sorted out Pakistan's opening woes. Sarfraz and Shehzad posted Pakistan's third century opening partnership in an ODI in Australia in the match against Ireland. It was also Pakistan's first century opening partnership in Australia after 25 years! Misbah-ul-Haq has been in fine form during this World Cup having posted four fifties, the most by any batsman, and has kept Pakistan's batting together in the middle overs. Irfan, Wahab, Sohail, and Rahat have been among the best in this tournament - they have picked up wickets consistently, kept runs low in the death overs, and have defended the two lowest scores in this World Cup successfully. Unfortunately, Misbah will not have the firepower of Irfan going into this match but they could yet prove to be a handful.
That ticks all three boxes - opening stand, middle order partnership, and aggressive fast bowling - for Pakistan going into the quarterfinal.
This may be counting a bit too much on winning the toss and batting first, but Pakistan has got to play to its strength. If they are unlucky with the toss, then Pakistan can take inspiration from their win over Australia in 2011 when it was once again Pakistan's pacers (Umar Gul, 3-30, Abdul Razzaq, 2-8, and Wahab Riaz, 1-39) that set up victory by bowling Australia out for only 176.
Pakistan's turnaround in this World Cup has been led by their 4-pacer strategy. Irfan, Wahab, Sohail, and Rahat have been firing on all cylinders and Misbah has done outstandingly well in attacking the opposition with pace. It is unclear whether rookie paceman Ehsan Adil will take Irfan's place or whether legspinner Yasir Shah gets a go.
Pakistan's pace attack has picked up 41 wickets in this World Cup; only one less than the 42 picked up by Australia's and New Zealand's. Pakistan will need them to be firing one more time if Michael Clarke's team is to be dismantled on Friday.