ICC Champions Trophy 2017: Red-hot England hold edge over mercurial Pakistan in 1st semi-finalICC Champions Trophy 2017: Pakistan will have their task cut out in the semi-final as they will be up against a rampant England team which is yet to lose a match in the tournament.
England will fancy their chances of extending the search for an elusive major global ODI silverware despite drawing a mercurial Pakistan in the first semi-final of the ICC Champions Trophy in Cardiff 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. In Eoin Morgan's well-balanced unit, the world sees a chance for England to realise their dream. 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 span 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 a format they are still in the process of mastering.
In Ben Stokes, they have one of the world's best all-rounder, who can inflict damage on the opposition with both bat and ball.
It was not for nothing the Durham player was paid a handsome USD 2.16 million to take part in the lucrative Indian Premier League (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 last-four clash.
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 semi-finals.
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. They are the only team still unbeaten in the competition as they sailed into the semi-finals with three victories on the trot in the group stage.
Even as Sarfraz Ahmed's unpredictable Pakistan stand between them and a second straight Champions Trophy final appearance, England will fancy their chances.
Pakistan 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.
"England is a very good team, a very, very good team. They've been playing really good cricket for the last two years. If you're playing a world class team, definitely, you play more positive cricket against England," Sarfraz said.
England: Eoin Morgan (captain), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Sam Billings, Alex Hales, Jos Buttler, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Joe Root, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, David Willey, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood, Steven Finn.
Pakistan: Sarfraz Khan (capt.), Ahmed Shahzad, Azhar Ali, Babar Azam, Faheem Ashraf, Fakhar Zaman, Haris Sohail, Hasan Ali, Imad Wasim, Junaid Khan, Mohammed Amir, Mohammed Hafeez, Shadab Khan and Shoaib Malik.
Match starts 3pm IST
(With PTI inputs)