T20 World Cup Wrap: Semi-finals stopover for World Cup rollercoaster
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Kristy Havill

Stock up on your coffee and late night treats – the T20 World Cup semi-finals are upon us, and we’ve got a big couple of mornings ahead.


The semi-finals won’t feature the reigning champion West Indies nor the pre-tournament favourites India, who will no doubt go home to plot their immediate revenge against the Blackcaps for when they tour India next week.


Instead, it will be England, New Zealand, Australia and Pakistan suiting up to slog it out for a place in the final. Excuse the pun.


First up is our beloved Blackcaps against England in Abu Dhabi on Thursday morning (3:00am NZT), and while the immediate thought will be to cast one’s mind back to that day in the middle of 2019 and a certain boundary countback fiasco, let’s not even go there.


Don’t get sucked in by the Barmy Army banter and goading tweets about what happened last time we played England in a World Cup. Instead, politely remind them exactly what occurred the last match between the two sides – a 2-0 Test series win in our favour earlier this year.


It’s all just theatrics, designed to ramp up the importance of the clash. The significance of a semi-final speaks for itself and doesn’t need further drama. This is a different format, event and continent. Let’s stick to the cricket, because goodness knows that’s what New Zealand and England will be doing.


England’s gun opener Jason Roy is now confirmed as being ruled out of the tournament, which is a colossal blow for them. The man was in solid form with the bat, and is also one of the standout fielders in the side. His withdrawal will now prompt a reshuffle in the batting order as England look for someone to partner Jos Buttler at the top.


The frontrunner for that would be Jonny Bairstow, who has spent many an innings at the top of the order across all three formats. Other candidates could be either of Dawid Malan or Moeen Ali in order to provide a left/right opening combination.


While James Vince has been officially brought into the squad as Roy’s replacement, he will have a battle on his hands with Sam Billings to secure the vacant spot in the XI. Both enjoyed blockbuster county summers in the UK, in which they were both captains, and both bring athleticism and experience.


The English were properly put under pressure for the first time in the tournament by South Africa in their last match of the Super 12 stage, after the Proteas posted an imposing total and held their nerve with the ball to hand England their only loss to date.


The Blackcaps will no doubt be casting keen eyes over that match for analysis purposes to formulate their plans, which have been spot on so far in this tournament. After the first match against Pakistan, New Zealand faced win-at-all-costs situations against India and Afghanistan to get to this point in the tournament and passed with flying colours both times.


Their bowling plans have been excellent, and execution has been world class. The Blackcaps also now have momentum and confidence with the bat in both setting and chasing totals.


The key in any knockout clash is to keep ticking the strike over as much as possible if boundaries are hard to come by. This isn’t something that the Blackcaps did overly well after the end of the powerplay against Scotland and Namibia, as the first few overs with five fielders out went by without many runs being scored at all.


However, this is somewhat offset by New Zealand not losing more than two wickets inside the first six overs in any of their Super 12 matches. This allowed their batters time to settle and launch towards the back end. 


Back-to-back matches in Abu Dhabi for the Blackcaps is a bonus too when it comes to being familiar with ground conditions, while England haven’t played at the Zayed Cricket Stadium since October 27 against Bangladesh.


As with any Kane Williamson-led side they will respect their opposition, but will not be intimidated by the occasion and will back their proven ability to perform under pressure.


Across the way in Dubai on Friday morning (3:00am NZT) is where we’ll see Pakistan and Australia go toe to toe in the second semi-final.


Such has been the dominance of Pakistan so far, they, like England, haven’t been put under huge amounts of pressure. One hair-raising moment was against Afghanistan when the men in green were very much on the ropes in the run chase, before Asif Ali whacked an extraordinary 25* from seven balls to see them home.


It’s difficult to put your finger on any significant weaknesses that Pakistan may have – they truly are a great T20 side at the moment. There have been runs right throughout the top and middle order, and wickets shared around across the board. As always, Babar Azam looms as the prized wicket after recording scores of 68*, 9, 51, 70 and 66 in the Super 12 stage. Simply sublime form, and there’s no doubt Mitchell Starc will be licking his chops ready to have a crack at him with his left-arm inswingers.


One thing that could tip them up if push comes to shove is whether the Pakistan tail can bring some late hitting firepower to carry them home, as they haven’t been required to bat in the tournament yet.


Over in the Australia camp, one thing that may be cause for concern for them is that they are yet to play a quality subcontinent team in this World Cup. Yes, they played Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, but neither of those two teams are of the same ilk as India, Afghanistan and Pakistan.


These venues in the United Arab Emirates have also been adopted home games for Pakistan for many years now, and you can bet your bottom dollar there will be an incredible contingent in the crowd there to support them, which will further enhance the task ahead of the Aussies.


Another compelling innings from David Warner against the West Indies shows he will be a target for Shaheen Afridi, much like Azam will be for Starc. His 89* off 56 will certainly put Pakistan on notice, as will Mitchell Marsh’s 53 from 32 batting at three.


After that, things may get a little dicey for the Australian order, as they haven’t been required to bat past four since they played England on October 31, which is nearly two weeks by the time the semi-final rocks around. In both of the games since, Glenn Maxwell (batting at four) had the honour of finishing 0* from zero balls.


Therefore the likes of Maxwell, Steve Smith, Marcus Stoinis and Matthew Wade could start getting a bit twitchy in the middle as a result of not having any time at the crease, of which Pakistan will be well aware.


Finals cricket is always special and now that the four best teams have been found, it’s time to whittle that down to two.   


Prediction: Pakistan v New Zealand final.