Saturday promises two cracking matches at the Cricket World Cup as South Africa take on Pakistan in Auckland and Ireland play Zimbabwe in Hobart.
South Africa v Pakistan, Pool B, Eden Park, from 0100 GMT
South Africa are already through to the quarter-final stage of the tournament following their comprehensive wins over West Indies and Ireland. However, they will still be desperately keen to take two points from the contest to help their bid to finish as high as possible in Pool B and so increase their chances of avoiding favourites and hosts Australia and New Zealand in a last eight tie.
Pakistan, meanwhile, have only wins against Zimbabwe and UAE to show for their competition thus far and will want to pick up a victory to avoid their match against Ireland becoming a must-win contest.
The match should, on paper, be high-scoring considering the notoriously short Eden Park boundaries and South Africa’s recent imperious form with the willow. However, that may not necessarily be the case. Pakistan’s strength in their pace-bowling will be given assistance by the cloudy overhead conditions that are forecast, while their fragile batting line-up could come unstuck in the same conditions against what is always a potent South African pace attack. Add in the prospect of a shortened game due to the showers that are forecast and things could become twitchy and unpredictable.
South Africa, though, remain firm favourites and have a full complement of players to pick from following the return to fitness of both batting all-rounder JP Duminy and seam bowler Vernon Philander. Duminy is certain to start, meaning that Rilee Rossouw and Farhaan Begardien will battle out for the number seven spot. Rossouw should win out thanks to his superb recent form with the bat. The bowling face-off between Philander and Kyle Abbott is trickier to call. Abbott has been mightily impressive during the games that he has covered for Philander, but has he done enough to convince the Proteas to leave out the experienced Philander?
Possible South Africa XI: Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock (wicket-keeper), Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers (captain) , David Miller, JP Duminy, Rilee Rossouw, Kyle Abbott, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Imran Tahir.
Pakistan also have things to ponder. Haris Sohail is a doubt due to a heel injury and so could be replaced at number three by Younus Khan. Another possible change is to bring back specialist wicket-keeper Sarfraz Ahmed to open at the expense of the out-of-form Nasir Jamshed. Many people think Sarfraz should have been playing all along; a view that has been strengthened with every fumble from Umar Akmal and low score from Jamshed.
Possible Pakistan XI: Sarfraz Ahmed (wicket-keeper), Ahmed Shehzad, Haris Sohail/Younus Khan, Sohaib Maqsood, Misbah-ul-Haq (captain), Umar Akmal, Shahid Afridi, Wahab Riaz, Sohail Khan, Rahat Ali, Mohammad Irfan.
Ireland v Zimbabwe, Pool B, Bellerive Oval, from 0330 GMT
A win for Ireland would pretty much guarantee them a berth in the knockout stage following their victories against West Indies and UAE. Even if they lose, matches against Pakistan and India still offer a chance for redemption. Zimbabwe, alas, have no such luxury and have to win and then beat India to make the last eight following their frustrating defeat last time out to Pakistan.
The match will have more than just two points riding on it. Ireland, as the highest ranked associate member, have seen their fans become increasingly vocal on social media at the perceived injustice of having to qualify for this tournament, while Zimbabwe, a full member, but only one place above them on the ODI rankings despite having many more opportunities to play, did not. Many think Ireland, especially given Zimbabwe Cricket’s history of woeful administration should join, or even displace, Zimbabwe at cricket’s top table. Those calls will only grow louder with an Ireland win.
Ireland’s strength is their sheer professionalism. Most of their players have cut their teeth in county cricket and they are a side that, to use one of cricket’s most oft-utilised clichés, ‘do the basics well’. They will look to take early wickets and expose Zimbabwe’s in-form middle-order to the new balls and then make the most of batting against an attack that can sometimes – with the exception of Tendai Chatara – look a little one-dimensional. Zimbabwe’s middle-order, by contrast, will look to monster the Irish medium pacers. Their bowlers will look to take early wickets with the new ball – targeting the key wicket of Ed Joyce in particular – when they are at their most potent and expose the Irish lower-order early. Conditions are forecast as relatively cool but mostly fine.
Ireland are unlikely to make too many changes to their eleven. The main choice will be between off-spinner Andy McBrine and one of the seam bowlers, most probably Alex Cusack, although they may yet be tempted by the extra bite offered by either Craig Young or Peter Chase.
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