Sydney: New Zealand, cricket’s quiet achievers, and Pakistan, the game’s most unpredictable side, clash in the opening Twenty20 World Cup semi-final on Wednesday after making their way to the knockout rounds by starkly contrasting paths.
The Black Caps hammered hosts and champions Australia in their tournament opener, had a match washed out and lost a high-quality contest to England before reaching a fifth successive white-ball World Cup semi-final as group winners.
Pakistan’s journey started with a remarkable loss to India in front of 92,000 fans at Melbourne Cricket Ground which was followed by an equally dramatic upset at the hands of Zimbabwe and a rain-disrupted win over South Africa.
They scraped into the last four by beating Bangladesh but only after a stunning upset of South Africa by the Dutch in the final round of group matches had cleared the path.
You get the impression, however, that that is pretty much the way Pakistan like it.
“Shadab (Khan) actually said something very significant in the dugout the other day, he said: ‘Welcome to Pakistan cricket’,” team mentor Matthew Hayden said on Tuesday.
“Meaning that on any given day, anything can happen. When Netherlands beat South Africa, it was a significant moment for us in the tournament and as a result of that, I feel that there was very much an uplifting of tempo in our group.” If Pakistan will be looking to ride the momentum of their great escape from the group, New Zealand will be relying on a tried and tested philosophy as they seek to reach the final against India or England.
“We’re just focusing on one game at a time as we have done throughout this tournament,” said captain Kane Williamson.
“And now we’re in a semi-final, which is a nice place to be, but it’s about cricket and the type of cricket we want to commit to and keep playing and that will be our focus.” Blue skies are forecast for the Sydney Cricket Ground on Wednesday for what could be an intriguing contrast between two well-balanced teams boasting some fine pace bowling.
For some, the match has echoes of the 1992 50-overs World Cup in Australia, where Pakistan scraped into the last four before beating tournament favourites New Zealand in the semis and England in the final.
Williamson was reluctant to ascribe to one of Pakistan’s finest hours in white ball cricket - they also won the T20 World Cup in 2009 - as being any sort of precedent.
“I was two,” he deadpanned. “There’s also a rich cricketing history in New Zealand. A number of great moments.”