MELBOURNE: Australia enter their World Cup quarter-final as runaway favourites against Pakistan in Adelaide on Friday, but will be wary of an enigmatic team that have proved a major thorn in their side at past tournaments.
Australia boast 11 wins from their past 13 one-day internationals against Pakistan, but it was the 2011 World Cup loss in Colombo that will be remembered grimly by a number of players in Michael Clarke’s side.
As triple defending champions, a Ricky Ponting-led Australia came into the 2011 pool match riding a 34-match winning streak at World Cups dating back to 1999.
Pakistan skittled their batsmen for 176, their lowest World Cup total since 1992, and held on to record a four-wicket victory that put Australia into a tough quarter-final which they ultimately lost to eventual champions India.
It was also Pakistan who were the last team to beat Australia before their winning streak which included the teams playing off in the 1999 World Cup final and Australia go on to defend the trophy twice.
Fast forward to the current tournament, the co-hosts will be wary of Pakistan’s return to form after their abject start to the tournament.
It was a horror start in 1992 that saw Imran Khan’s “cornered tigers” ultimately fight back to win their maiden and only World Cup on Australian soil.
Though pundits have been tempted to link the campaigns, Misbah-ul-Haq’s team is poles apart from Khan’s side in batting and bowling stocks and has been further depleted by the loss of towering paceman Mohammad Irfan to a broken pelvis.
Pakistan are likely to lean on Wahab Riaz, Sohail Khan, Rahat Ali and Ehsan Adil for their pace attack, although the makeup could change if selectors decide to go with legspinner Yasir Shah, as coach Waqar Younis hinted.
The 28-year-old Shah has not played since the opening pool loss to India but has proved a handful for Australian batsmen, capturing 12 wickets in last year’s 2-0 test series win in United Arab Emirates.
Though the side may not be decided, Misbah had no argument that his team were the underdogs.
“They are favourites,” Misbah told reporters of his opponents on Thursday.
“But there is no hard and fast rules that favourites are always going to win the game.
“It’s on the day … we are hopeful and we are very positive and I think we have got a bowling line-up that can really go through any team.”
Australia can rightfully make the same boast of their pace attack, led by left-arm seamer Mitchell Starc who leads the tournament with 16 wickets at a devastating average of 8.50.
Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood are vying to be the third paceman to join Starc and Mitchell Johnson on an Adelaide Oval wicket which had a green tinge on Thursday.
The prize for the winner is a semi-final in Sydney against the victor in Thursday’s quarter-final between India and Bangladesh.
Captain Clarke was cagey about the lineup of his team, saying they would wait until having another look at the wicket on match-day before making a call.
“Fast bowing will play a big part tomorrow, especially if they leave that grass on the wicket like there is now — fingers crossed,” he told reporters.
“But I think both teams have good fast bowlers in their line-ups so the batters are going to have to make sure we play really well.”