Ireland, Pakistan in virtual shootout
Monday, March 14, 2015
Start time 14.00 local (03.30 GMT)
This has already dubbed been "the biggest game we've ever had" by Ireland's key batsman, Ed Joyce.
The winner of this game is assured of a quarter-final place. The loser could qualify, too, but that would depend on the unlikely scenario of West Indies losing to UAE. Ireland, with their relatively poor run-rate, almost certainly need to win, while if Pakistan lose, their qualification will depend on the NRR comparison with West Indies.
An abandonment would also send both Ireland and Pakistan into the next round.
The further context is that Ireland are both fighting to develop cricket in their own country and for the reputation of Associate cricket. Much has already been said about the rights and wrongs of the ICC's decision to reduce the 2019 World Cup to 10 teams, but if Ireland can progress while two Full Member nations exit, they will have made their point more eloquently, more powerfully, more persuasively than any words.
In the grand scheme of things, Ireland might take credit for going so far whether they win or lose. They might take credit for overcoming their poor form in the warm-up games - they lost to a grade side in Sydney and Scotland in Blacktown - and a modest seam-bowling attack acutely lacking in pace.
But such is their ambition, such is their determination, that anything less than a quarter-final place at this stage would be considered a disappointment.
They have a tough task. After a poor start to the tournament, Pakistan have won three games in succession and look far stronger in the field and with the bat, for the inclusion of Sarfraz Ahmed and Younis Khan. Their seam attack includes the trio of left-arm pacemen Wahab Riaz who has bowled the quickest delivery in the tournament, Rahat Ali, who is conceding his runs at an average of only 3.82 an over, and the towering Mohammad Irfan. It might be best described as daunting.
In the long-term, Pakistan might worry about who replaces Younis at No. 3, who replaces Misbah at No. 4 - and as captain - and who replaces Shahid Afridi, who seems to have been playing for Pakistan since the dawn of time.
But the long-term can wait. This is a World Cup. This is the ODI tournament that defines careers. And this is the game that might define the tournament for both sides.
(last five matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
The reason confusion continues to surround the exact height of Mohammad Irfan is that he is simply too tall to measure. Some say he eats three James Taylors in a bun each breakfast and brushes his teeth with a fir tree plucked from a mountainside. He could, he says, write a book on the difficulties of fitting into hotel beds and airplane seats. While it remains a struggle to keep him fit - his buttocks are currently causing him some discomfort - his pace, his height and his left-arm angle create significant difficulties for any batsman. While teams in the early stages were happy to simply see him off, the decision to include an extra bowler in the Pakistan side has forced batsmen to take a more aggressive approach against him. They rarely succeed.
While Ed Joyce remains the key batsman, the form of Andy Balbirnie has been hugely encouraging. A year ago Balbirnie, an elegant 24-year-old batsman, would barely have warranted mention in Ireland's top 20 players. But he flourished on the acclimatisation tour of Australia and New Zealand before Christmas and has continued his development in this tournament with impressive innings against South Africa - when he made 58 - and Zimbabwe - when he made 97.
Pakistan report a fully fit squad, but there seems a good chance they will go into the game unchanged. There is talk of them recalling spin bowling all-rounder Haris Sohail, but it is not easy to see where he would fit in. There may also be a temptation to play the legspinner, Yasir Shah, with a view to exploiting Ireland's perceived weakness against spin, but Misbah played down both possibilities. He said the seamers were "bowling really well" and "just taking wickets" while also claiming Ireland are "really good against spin."
Pakistan(probable): 1 Sarfraz Ahmed (wkt), 2 Ahmed Shehzad 3 Younis Khan, 4 Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), 5 Sohaib Maqsood, 6 Umar Akmal, 7 Shahid Afridi, 8 Wahab Riaz, 9 Sohail Khan, 10 Rahat Ali, 11 Mohammad Irfan.
Ireland continue to compensate for their weakness in bowling - particularly seam bowling - with their impressive batting. There does seem a strong chance they will recall their highly impressive young offspinner Andy McBrine in place of one of the seamers, but generally they have a settled line-up that is unlikely to change much at this stage. How they could do with Tim Murtagh, who missed the tournament through injury, or Boyd Rankin, who misses through his decision to pursue a career with England, in such situations.
Ireland (probable): 1 William Porterfield (capt), 2 Paul Stirling, 3 Ed Joyce, 4 Niall O'Brien, 5Andy Balbirnie, 6 Gary Wilson (wkt), 7 Kevin O'Brien, 8 Stuart Thompson/Andy McBrine, 9 John Mooney, 10 George Dockrell, 11 Alex Cusack.
Pitch and conditions
The pitch for this game is on the opposite side of the square to that was used for the match between Bangladesh and England, so the square boundaries will not be quite so short. While the pitch is, by Australian standards, lacking just a bit of pace, it is true and offers the bowlers little. William Porterfield reasoned that 290 might be a par score, though no team has made more than 300 in an ODI here in the last decade. While there is an outside chance of a shower on the morning of the game, the weather is expected to be partly cloudy but generally sunny and dry.
Stats and trivia
Ireland have conceded more runs - 1,579 - than all teams in the competition other than Sri Lanka - 1,703 - who have played a game more.
Nobody has passed 50 in the tournament more times than Misbah-ul-Haq, who has on four occasions.
The only time a team has reached 300 in an ODI in Adelaide since January 1995 came on February 15 when India scored 300 for 7 against Pakistan.
With 5,049 runs, Misbah has the most ODI runs in history without a century. The next closest is Wasim Akram, also of Pakistan, with 3,717.
Ireland's NRR (-1.014) is the worst of any team with a hope of qualification. Only UAE, Scotland and Afganistan have a worse rate.
"It's really disappointing that we could be on the verge of Ireland's last World Cup game for a long time. We have a cause that we fight for. We are trying to grow the game at home and show the ICC the folly of keeping the next World Cup to 10 teams, not allowing nations like us ourselves a fair chance to get in. The chance to break into the quarter-finals of a World Cup definitely makes it the biggest game we've ever had."
Ed Joyce does not like mincing words
"The pacers are really bowling well. All of them are wicket-takers. All of them are aggressive bowlers. And that's what we need if we are not batting well. We need some really good backing by the bowling, and all the pacers are really doing their job getting wickets and putting pressure on the opposition."
Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq is unlikely to tamper with a winning combination