Pakistan should stick to their strengths in big SL clash: Shahid Afridi

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Pakistan v South Africa
Pakistan beat South Africa on Monday to ensure their stay in the ICC Champions Trophy after a a heavy loss to India. — AFP/File
Shukriya Pakistan

The article, written by former Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi, was originally published on icc-cricket.com.

The ICC Champions Trophy 2017 is alive and kicking after two stunning upsets. Pakistan’s win over South Africa and Sri Lanka’s resounding victory, chasing a 322-run target against India, have instilled a lot of interest, with Group B now wide open.

This reflects both the competitive format of the tournament as well as the fact that you can’t take any team for granted. It also means that the remaining two group matches – India versus South Africa and Pakistan versus Sri Lanka – are now virtual quarterfinals.

I would say that Pakistan now has as good a chance of reaching the semifinals as it could have hoped for at the start of the tournament. The side must now be oozing with confidence after its remarkable turnaround in the match against top-ranked South Africa as it prepares to take on Sri Lanka in Cardiff on Monday.

The Cardiff pitch is generally good for shot-making, with the straight boundaries shorter than other venues. Like most English pitches, run-making becomes easy after the initial overs, especially if the conditions aren’t overcast.

I feel Pakistan should stick to its strengths and play with the same positive approach it displayed against South Africa.

From a batting perspective, I hope that Fakhar Zaman continues to play the way he did against South Africa. If Fakhar stays at the crease for 20-30 overs, he can put the Sri Lanka bowlers under intense pressure. The southpaw should not change his style or curb his instincts unless the conditions demand so.

The rest of the batsmen should do the basics right and follow the game plan. The Pakistan batsmen have been guilty of occupying the crease aimlessly at times. It is important that they don’t repeat the mistakes they made in the game against India and keep the scoreboard moving by rotating the strike and keeping the dot ball percentage as low as possible.

On the other hand, new-ball bowlers Mohammad Amir and Junaid Khan must get breakthroughs to put pressure on Sri Lanka. I was hugely impressed by Sri Lanka’s young batsmen who batted fearlessly against a strong Indian bowling attack. Pakistan must make solid plans and try and make inroads as early as possible to put the opposition firmly on the back foot.

While we haven’t seen much swing at the start of the innings thus far, one can’t rule out such a possibility, especially if there is some early moisture and favourable weather for the ball to move around.

Both Amir and Junaid are more than capable of extracting advantage of helpful conditions. I want to reiterate here that Pakistan must have the same intensity as it showed against South Africa, with the fielders backing the bowlers.

Cricket is all about doing the basics right. The team that covers the basics and plays with an attacking game-plan generally prevails in limited-overs cricket.

I have a feeling that we will have an absorbing clash on Monday with both low-ranked teams giving it their all to seal a berth for the semi-finals, which will go a long way in improving their rankings, with the 30 September cut-off for ICC World Cup 2019 direct qualification.

Once again my prayers are with the ‘Green-Shirts’. I hope that they maintain their focus and enter the game with a solid game plan to counter the dangerous Sri Lankan team.

I haven’t discussed the Sri Lankan bowling much in this piece but rest assured they have a superstar in Lasith Malinga who can wreak havoc on his day.

Malinga has looked a tad off-colour in the first two games, but remember he is a champion performer who has won many games for his country. The rest of the bowling attack includes efficient bowlers who can more than hold their own on their day.

I expect the Pakistan-Sri Lanka encounter to be an absolute cracker with both teams giving it their absolute best; let’s hope that the game turns out to be a thriller which ends with a Pakistan win.

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