Australia are tasked with doing something that no other side has managed so far at the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup. Beating Pakistan.
The pair face off in the second semi-final in Dubai on Thursday to play for a place in Sunday’s showpiece against New Zealand.
But if Australia are to get there they will have to find a way past the form team of the tournament in Babar Azam’s Pakistan.
The Group 2 winners dismantled India in their opening match of the tournament to set the tone for an outstanding campaign, following that up with another comfortable win over their potential final opponents New Zealand.
And Pakistan, inspired by their skipper’s four half-centuries in the Super 12 stage, cruised through as Group 2 winners with further wins over Afghanistan, Namibia and Scotland. They are now looking to achieve what no team ever has: win the the Men's T20 World Cup without suffering a single defeat.
"Yeah, Pakistan have played brilliant cricket," Thursday’s opposing captain Aaron Finch said told the world’s media.
"I think the way that they've gone in the powerplay with the bat and ball has been really crucial to their success
"But it's interesting how the narrative can change really quick. About 10 days ago our team was too old and now we're an experienced team. That's just how it all gets portrayed. From day one I've had a real lot of confidence in the way that we've gone about this with the squad that we've got.
"I don't think that we've exceeded our expectations whatsoever. We came here with a really clear plan to win this tournament, and we're still alive to do that."
A bad omen for Pakistan is that no team has won an ICC T20 World Cup going through a tournament unbeaten.
And Australia have more than enough firepower to trouble Babar and his talented group of players.
A heavy loss to England aside, Finch’s Australian team were quietly impressive throughout the group stage, with their top-order power and range of bowling options proving more than enough to see off West Indies, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and South Africa.
Thursday’s semi-final opponents will be a step up from that level, but Finch’s “experienced” outfit have it in them to spoil Pakistan’s party.
Both teams are expected to be unchanged after settling on winning formulas through the group stage.
Australia’s one potential switch would be to add some bowling depth by replacing Mitchel Marsh with Ashton Agar, but the one time that option was tried in the Super 12 stage it failed to trouble England, so Marsh’s place is likely secure.
Probable Pakistan XI: Mohammad Rizwan, Babar Azam, Fakhar Zaman, Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik, Asif Ali, Shadab Khan, Imad Wasim, Hasan Ali, Haris Rauf, Shaheen Shah Afridi
Pakistan’s serene progress through Group 2 is likely to result in them sticking with the same XI.
Probable Australia XI: David Warner, Aaron Finch, Mitchell Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Steven Smith, Marcus Stoinis, Matthew Wade, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Adam Zampa, Josh Hazlewood.
Shaheen Shah Afridi, Pakistan: Australia’s threat with the bat is primarily in their top four, so targeting wickets in the Powerplay is key to hitting the Aussies. And nobody in world cricket is better at taking Powerplay wickets than Pakistan’s opening left-armer. Afridi’s opening onslaught against India is the blueprint – if he can produce anything like that level to remove Aaron Finch and David Warner then it’ll be advantage Pakistan.
Glenn Maxwell, Australia: One of the form batters in the world going into the tournament, Australia’s match-winning number four hasn’t got going yet at the World Cup. That has partly been down to opportunity, with Maxwell not-out without scoring in each of his side’s last two games. But Pakistan haven’t yet been put under pressure through the middle overs in the manner that Maxwell is capable of, and it would be a huge boost to Australia if their star batter fires on the big stage.
Captaincy call: Babar Azam has to be the top captaincy pick of the match without a second thought. He has scored 264 runs at an average of 66 in five matches in the ongoing T20 World Cup. Adding to his present form, Babar also has a great record against Australia in T20Is. He has four 50+ scores in six matches played against them which keeps him in the hot seat to perform in this match.
Must-have - Mitchell Starc: The left-arm pacer is in good form in the World Cup having picked seven wickets in five matches played. His record against Pakistan in T20Is is what makes him a must-have in this semi-final encounter. He has taken 13 wickets against them at a bowling strike rate of 13.9 in eight T20I matches.
What they said
Australia captain Aaron Finch: “I think that obviously Pakistan have been in really good form. They're 5-0 in this tournament. They've played some really good cricket throughout. All you can control is your process and your planning, and we've been doing that really well. We've got confidence in that. Like I've said before, Pakistan are playing really good cricket, so it'll be a great test.”
Matthew Hayden, Pakistan batting consultant: “I see wonderful potential. I want to make special mention here of a former teammate and colleague, and that is Dean Jones, who gave a lot of himself to Cricket Australia but also gave a lot of himself to Pakistan cricket, and his closing words to me I can hear in my ears was "These are my boys. This is something I'm so passionate about." He was just beautifully connected to Pakistan Cricket. May he rest in peace now, knowing that fact that he's left a legacy within this team, which will last not only this generation but generations to come. If I can add any value to those closing comments from Deano, that would be my greatest honour.”