Who would have guessed that three of the ICC Champions Trophy semi-finalists would originate from the subcontinent?
England are the exception, beating off Australia and New Zealand from Group A to book their place in the semi at Cardiff today. Pakistan are their opponents and though Micky Arthur’s outfit will be the outsiders on the day, England will need to put in a proficient performance to come through.
The main talking point in the England camp is whether it’ll be Jason Roy or Jonny Bairstow… or even Sam Billings? England don’t want to tinker, but Roy hasn’t scored for some time and Bairstow, professionally exemplary, is waiting in the wings for any slip.
Pardoning the obvious cliché, it’s not a bad headache to have, but changing the team at the semi-final seems rash, at least to me. That aside, there have been suggestions that it will in fact be Bairstow who is selected for duty.
There’s some serious form in the England camp, with Alex Hales scoring well before Australia, with Eoin Morgan and Ben Stokes putting in match winning performances with the bat and with Joe Root truthfully never off form.
Picking a top run scorer for any given game is a bit of a lottery, but form combined with class leads us towards test captain Root. As a complete outsider, you could back Moeen Ali, who may well open the batting with Hales should Roy face the axe. We’re going to play it fairly safe and say back Joe Root to be England’s Top Batsman at 5/2 with Betway. It’s also well worth backing opener Alex Hales to score Over 31.5 Runs at 5/6 with Betway.
Pakistan’s bowling is what has them a place in the semi. Youngster Hasan Ali has had his ‘breakthrough tournament’ while the likes of Imad Wasim, Mohammed Amir and Junaid Khan have all put in notable performances along the way. It’s Ali who gets the headlines, but our outside bet on spinner Imad Wasim to be Top Pakistan Bowler at 9/2 with Betway may well be worth your money, especially allowing for England’s previous difficulties against spin bowling.
Sarfraz Ahmed saved Pakistani blushes against Sri Lanka in pursuit of 236, but we expect England to be a sterner test of their abilities. While yet to impress so far in the tournament, opener Azhar Ali is the technically gifted batsman Pakistan might need against a skilled and growingly adept England ODI bowling side.
Azhar’s batting might just be too slow and if you are to bet elsewhere, his opening partner Fakhar Zaman scored an entertaining 50 from 36 balls to lay the admittedly frail foundations against Sri Lanka. He could be a danger to England, too.
England excelled with the ball against Australia. On the day, it was the pacey Mark Wood and Adil Rashid who cleaned up, but Liam Plunkett has been the consistent thorn in opposition’s side since the nation’s rising in ODIs.
Being a side from the subcontinent, you would expect Pakistan to pick Rashid’s variations, but the soaring pace and accuracy of Mark Wood could frustrate Pakistan into giving away their wicket.
A bet on either Wood (7/2) or Plunkett (3/1) to take the most wickets are sensible options, with the former boasting the tournament’s most economic run rate and the latter achieving the second most wickets in the tournament so far. We’re going to take Liam Plunkett to be England’s Top Bowler at 3/1 with Betway. We strongly recommend taking Plunkett Over 1.5 Wickets at 5/6 with Betway.
This semi-final should be England’s and a bet on the hosts seems to be equally sensible at 1/3. If ICC rankings are anything to go by, it is England’s game, but as these finals are evidence for, the rankings mean near to nothing in micro-competitive tournaments.
Pakistan have done their bit and shown true development even since their opener against India, but we feel taking into account the home advantage and honest ability of this England set up, Eoin Morgan and co should and will sweep them aside in pursuit of the trophy.