CARDIFF: Pakistan will hope their lucky charm of Cardiff continues as they take on title favourites and hosts England in the first semi-final on Wednesday, having blown hot and cold in the Champions Trophy tournament.
Pakistan have lived up to their reputations of being “unpredictable” by going down tamely to India by 124 runs in their opening match at Edgbaston but bounced back strongly by knocking world number one South Africa to remain in contention for the last four in Group B.
It took a brilliant but chancy Sarfraz’s 61 not out and an eighth wicket unbroken stand of 75 with Mohammad Amir (28 not out) to steer them to a three wicket win over Sri Lanka in Cardiff on Monday.
Pakistan team as well as Sarfraz Ahmed have fond memories of the Sophia Garden ground where they beat England after chasing down a tough 303-run target, with the skipper hitting a brilliant 90 in September last year.
Sarfraz hoped Cardiff continues to be kind on Pakistan.
“Yeah, we hope that the lucky charm continues,” said Sarfraz, whose team opted to rest ahead of the semo-final. “Last time we won that match by chasing 300, so definitely our confidence will be very high playing in Cardiff.”
Sarfraz admitted England will be tough on the field.
“They are playing some good cricket and have changed tremendously since the 2015 World Cup, so we have to be at our best to beat them and reach the final,” said Sarfraz.
Pakistan have never reached the finals of Champions trophy, losing in semi-finals to New Zealand in 2000 and 2009 and to the West Indies in 2004.
Pakistan will resist making any change but may consider leg-spinner Shadab Khan in case the conditions are not overcast.
England will definitely be without out of form opener Jason Roy, making way for Jonny Bairstow.
Roy did not bat in the nets, suggesting his Champions Trophy is over despite England being comfortable winners in their games — an eight wicket win over Bangladesh, 87 run victory over New Zealand and Duckworth-Lewis 40-run triumph against arch rivals Australia.
Morgan too believed Cardiff is kind for England, having won six of their 11 ODIs here, with two defeats and three no results.
“Cardiff’s always been a very good venue for us,” said Morgan. “The last game, we had great support. We had a full house, and everybody seems to get right behind us. So hopefully tomorrow — I think tomorrow is sold out as well. Where is the empty seats?”
Morgan admitted Pakistan have a strong bowling attack with Mohammad Amir, Junaid Khan and Hasan Ali in wicket-taking form.
“Pakistan are a very strong bowling lineup,” said Morgan. “I suppose they have variation, but certainly we do have plans against all of them. We’ve had plans for the last — since the last series that we played against them, last two series, home and away.”
Morgan said Cardiff defeat against Pakistan will not be a factor in the semi-final.
“I think the impact of that series was 4-1. Obviously, the result that came here was disappointing for us. I didn’t think we performed well that day. Pakistan outplayed us.
“Obviously, on their day, they can beat any team in the world, and you’ve just sort of touched on it, that they have the ability to beat the number 1 ranked side, and on their day, they’re very dangerous.”
England have won 11 of their last 12 matches at this level and have a balanced and strong unit with Ben Stokes in great form after his hundred against Australia.
Cardiff weather has relented so expect a cracker of a game with no intervention from the weather.