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Australia vs. Pakistan punting picks, 2015 World Cup qualifier

Quarter Final 2 – 2:30 AEST on Friday, March 20, 2015 at the Adelaide Oval

Australia – $1.22 to win at CrownBet
Pakistan – $4.50 at Sportsbet

The third instalment of the 2015 ICC World Cup quarterfinals will see Australia and Pakistan duke it out in Adelaide as the hosts continue their quest for a record fifth title.

The Aussies might have expected to finish top in Group A, which would have set up a slightly more palatable tie against the West Indies, but no result against Bangladesh and a heartbreaking one-wicket defeat to New Zealand means they’ve had to settle for second spot.

Besides those two potholes, however, it has been a pretty smooth ride for the top-ranked One Day International side. They spanked England by 111 runs on the opening day at the MCG, bowled out at an in-form Sri Lanka line-up to win by 64 runs in Sydney, did Scotland in by seven wickets in Hobart, and demolished Afghanistan by some 275 runs – a World Cup record margin.

Nevertheless, the focus of the insatiable Australian press and public lingers on the middle-order shortcomings exposed by the Kiwi pace attack. The Aussies were bundled out for just 151 at Eden Park, and it would have been a lot worse were it not for a precious 10th-wicket stand of 45 between Brad Haddin and Pat Cummins.

As ever, much of the blame fell on Shane Watson. The all-rounder was far from the worst of the bunch in Auckland – his 23 was Australia’s third-highest individual score – but he was dropped nonetheless for the Afghanistan game.

However, an injury to Mitch Marsh has given Watson yet another chance to prove his worth on the international stage. Switching roles with Steve Smith, who moved to first drop, ‘Watto’ made an impressive 67 batting down the order against Sri Lanka, and former Australia star Michael Hussey believes the change could prove pivotal in the host nation’s title tilt.

“Steve Smith has just had an unbelievable summer and you might as well ride that wave as much as you can and get him in there early,” Hussey said in The Daily Telegraph.

“It really complements the batting order really well, where you’ve got some powerful players at the top, then you’ve got the real workers and the guys who can control the innings really well in the middle in Clarke and Smith.

“And then you’ve got more power to come in and finish it off – and a lot of power at that, with Watson, Maxwell, Faulkner and Haddin.”

If there are some lingering concerns about the batting, there are very few about the bowling. Mitchell Starc has been faultless, claiming 16 wickets and nearly bowling the Aussies to an unlikely victory against NZ, while Cummins and Faulkner have also performed well when called upon. Mitchell Johnson has been erratic at times, but has still contributed wickets.

The only doubt is the spin department. Can Glenn Maxwell do enough, or will the Aussies have to turn to Xavier Doherty? The Tasmanian left-armer is the undeniable weak link in the squad, having been horribly exposed against Sri Lanka (0 for 60 off seven overs) in his only 2015 World Cup outing to date.

The Pakistani spinners haven’t exactly set the the world on fire, either. The normally dangerous Shahid Afridi has managed just two wickets from six games, while Haris Sohail has given up way too many runs for his three scalps.

The pace attack is a different story (besides the economy rate, which could improve across the board). Wahab Riaz has starred as the change option, with 14 World Cup wickets at an average of 22.42, while Sohail Khan (11 wickets at 27.90), Mohammed Irfan (eight wickets at 23.25) and Rahat Ali (seven wickets at 22.17) have all caused problems for opposition batsmen throughout the league phase.

Even though Irfan will miss the remainder of the tourney through injury, the biggest concern for Pakistan is the batting line-up. Only once in six group games did they manage an innings score of more than 300, and in three of those they were bowled out for less than 225.

But, for all their troubles, it might just be Pakistan’s inconsistency that makes them most dangerous. The 1992 World Cup winners have already displayed plenty of their signature bipolarity in the 2015 edition, losing heavily to a mediocre West Indies outfit before bouncing back to shock a star-studded South Africa.

The Pakistanis will also take confidence from last year’s 2-0 Test series win over Australia, and Sarfraz Ahmed – who steered his team to victory over Ireland with an unbeaten 101 on Sunday – believes it is the hosts who should be feeling the pinch on a flat Adelaide wicket that may well suit the visitors.

“I think the pressure is on Australia as they are playing on home grounds and before home crowds so we will try to attack and play positive cricket,” the wicketkeeper told the press this week, adding that Pakistan’s trio of left-arm quicks will give them a leg-up against the Aussie attack of Starc, Johnson and Faulkner.

“We also have three left-arm fast bowlers so we are preparing with their help,” he said.

“I think our preparation against their left-armers will be good as we have three days to do that. We know they have a very good bowling attack.

“I have played Starc before in the UAE so we will see the footage and prepare well for Friday. The target is to give Pakistan a good start and get a win.”

Team news

– Expect very little to change on the Australian front. Even if Mitch Marsh is declared fit, Watson seems likely to keep his spot in the middle order for the time being. The notoriously injury-prone Cummins has been carefully managed thus far, but he should start after taking 3 for 42 against Scotland. Doherty could be considered if the Aussies decide to pick a specialist spinner.

– Pakistan’s bowling stocks suffered a big blow on Tuesday with the announcement that Irfan will miss the rest of the World Cup due to a stress fracture. Ehsan Adil replaced him for the win over Ireland, the 22-year-old taking 1 for 31. Younis Khan was the startling casualty of the group stage, axed to accommodate an extra bowling option in Haris Sohail, but the veteran may well return for the quarterfinals to sure up what remains a very fragile batting order.

Possible team selections

Australia: Michael Clarke (C), David Warner, Aaron Finch, Steve Smith, Shane Watson, Glenn Maxwell, Brad Haddin, James Faulkner, Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins

Pakistan: Misbah-ul-Huq (C), Ahmed Shehzad, Sarfraz Ahmed, Umar Akmal, Haris Sohail, Sohaib Maqsood, Shahid Afridi, Wahab Riaz, Sohail Khan, Rahat Ali, Ehsan Adil

Match predictions

Result: Australia to win – $1.22 at CrownBet.com.au

Highest score after 15 overs: Australia – $1.44 at William Hill

Highest opening partnership: Australia – $1.61 at Bet365

The Aussies will hope to make a big statement in Adelaide, where a typically batter-friendly wicket and short square boundaries will suit Warner and Finch. If the home side wins the toss and bats first, expect them to go after the Pakistani attack early on – especially without the seven-foot-tall Irfan, whose extra height and bounce would have been extremely useful.

Top batsmen betting markets

Australia

David Warner ($4.00 at Bet365)
The stocky opener finally got going in earnest with a downright rude display of aggression at the WACA, dismantling the hapless Afghani attack on his way to 178. Having missed out against Sri Lanka and dropped down the order to give Clarke and Co. a hit against the Scots, Warner will look to put the Pakistanis in his pocket from the get-go.

Steve Smith($5.00 at Sportsbet.com.au)
Now that he’s moved up to number three in the Australian batting order, we can expect to see more of the kind of form that has made Smith one of world cricket’s biggest revelations over the past 18 months. He fell just short of a ton in Perth and would be eager to rectify that blip with three figures in front of 50,000 fans at the Adelaide Oval.

Pakistan

Sarfraz Ahmed ($5.00 at Sportsbet)
Having only come into the team part-way through the group phase, the 27-year-old ‘keeper quickly made his mark with 49 against South Africa and a crucial 101 against Ireland to send Pakistan through to the quarterfinals. That unbeaten hundred came at Adelaide, too, so he should feel right at home.

Misbah-ul-Huq ($4.50 at Bet365.com.au)
Despite the fact he is yet to register a single ODI century, 40-year-old Misbah remains by far the most reliable of the Pakistani batsmen. He has already notched four half-centuries in World Cup 2015, including an important 56 to keep his side alive against Sth Africa. Even if things go horribly wrong for Pakistan, expect the skipper to stand tall and keep the scoreboard ticking over.

Tips for most match wickets

Australia

Mitchell Starc ($3.25 at Bet365)
Duh. The young New South Welshman is tearing up his first 50-over Cricket World Cup, with 16 wickets at a ridiculous average of 8.50. Starc’s in-swinging yorker has terrorised established batsmen and tail-enders alike, so Pakistan coach Waqar Younis should prepare his charges for the kind of nightmares he and his old bowling partner, Wasim Akram, used to cause.

James Faulkner ($5.00 at CrownBet)
He may not be as frightening as Starc, Johnson, or Cummins, but the Tasmanian seamer possesses an uncanny understanding of how to make batsmen uncomfortable. Faulkner is especially dangerous late in the innings, where his ability to create dismissals while keeping it tight is second to none. The only question is whether he will get the overs required to make an impact.

Pakistan

Wahab Riaz $4.25
Despite often coming into the attack as the second change, Wahab struck more often than other Pakistani bowler through the group stage. He is prone to conceding a lot of runs, as a career economy rate of 5.62 attests – but that doesn’t really matter when it comes to betting on who will take the most wickets, does it?

Sohail Khan $4.50
With only 11 ODI caps, Sohail is hardly a household name outside his native land. However, the 31-year-old has proven a consistent threat in this World Cup, with wickets in all but one of his six group-stage appearances. Seven of his 11 dismissals have come at Adelaide, including a valiant 5 for 55 in the opening-round defeat to India.

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