England will fancy their chances of extending the search for an elusive major global ODI silverware despite drawing a mercurial Pakistan in the first semifinal of the ICC Champions Trophy on Wednesday.
Three-time World Cup finalists England have been trying for the past 42 years to lay claim to a trophy in a major 50-over tournament, but will have to work hard to defeat unpredictable Pakistan.
Notwithstanding Pakistan’s remarkable turnaround after an embarrassing loss to arch-rivals India in their tournament opener in Birmingham, hosts England will take to the field at Sophia Gardens with their nose ahead.
England have come a long way in a short space of time since a humiliating first-round exit at the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
They thrashed Pakistan 4-1 in a bilateral ODI series last year at home, including a world record score of 444 for three at Trent Bridge, which provides ample proof of their resurgence in recent times.
In Ben Stokes, they have one of the world’s best all-rounders, and it was not for nothing that the Durham player was paid a handsome $2.16 million to take part in the IPL this season.
Joe Root is a world-class batsman and is the fulcrum around whom the England batting revolves.
Morgan and Jos Buttler complete the middle order, while openers Alex Hales and Jason Roy have the ability to be devastating at the top. Roy, though, has not been in the best of form and could be replaced by Jonny Bairstow for the semifinal.
Pacers Jake Ball and Liam Plunkett have been doing the job with the ball, while a fired-up Mark Wood revelled in his role as Morgan’s strike bowler, propelling the side to the semifinals.
Wood has returned this summer after three bouts of ankle surgery but his pace remained intact, often bamboozling opposition batsmen with his 90mph missiles.
England have by far been the best team in the tournament so far.
They are the only team still unbeaten in the competition as they sailed into the semifinals with three victories on the trot in the group stage.
As for Pakistan, they will be boosted by Sarfraz’s match-winning knock in the team’s three-wicket win over Sri Lanka, which put them into the semis.
That they managed to hold their own in a match where there was quite a few twists and turns, should boost Pakistan’s morale.
The green shirts are also excited about the explosive entry of opener Fakhar Zaman, who slammed 50 off 36 balls against the Sri Lankans. Another round of enterprise at the top by the new man would do Pakistan a world of good.
While the middle order batting remains a concern, Sarfraz said Pakistan will address it so that the likes of Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik click when the situation demands.
Pakistan have a potent pace bowling attack in Mohammad Amir, Junaid Khan and Hasan Ali with Faheem Ali adding a fourth dimension to the triumvirate.
England are aware that the Pakistani pacers are adept at exploiting helpful seaming conditions.
And Sarfraz, too, knows too well the opposition they are up against.
Feature image source: Reuters/ICC