Auckland: Having beaten two minnow teams after a disastrous start in the tournament, an unpredictable but dangerous Pakistan take on formidable South Africa in their crucial cricket World Cup match here on Saturday, knowing fully well that a loss could put them on the brink.
Pakistan are precariously placed after losing to India and the West Indies in their first two matches and a victory tomorrow in the Pool B game at the Eden Park would save them from being placed in a difficult situation for a quarterfinal spot besides boosting their confidence.
The 1992 champions would want to prove a couple of points against the Proteas who are on a roll after suffering a comprehensive defeat against India. Pakistan have been beaten by the Proteas in all their earlier three World Cup meetings (1992, 1996, 1999) and they would want to tick a win, besides also posting their first victory against a big side in this edition.
South Africa, on the other hand, would try to continue their strong showings, having won three of their four matches and coming off the back of two totals of 400-plus. But, they will be up against the most challenging attack they will face in group stages, a Pakistan line-up laden with left-armers and laced with aggression. A win tomorrow will virtually seal a quarterfinal berth for the Proteas.
It was just three matches ago that South Africa's unbeaten World Cup record against India was broken due a fragile batting line-up. But, the Proteas have responded in a magnificent fashion after that forgettable batting show with captain A B de Villiers leading the charge.
De Villiers, Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis have scored hundreds in the last two games. De Villiers has been in astounding touch during his 66-ball 162 against the West Indies on February 27 -- the fastest 150 in ODIs.
Tomorrow's match could be decided by who bats better in a tournament fast turning out to be a 'batting World Cup'. Both sides are traditionally strong in bowling department though Pakistan will be hoping that their spearhead Mohammad Irfan regains full fitness after injuring a hip muscle in the match against UAE. Coach Waqar Younis was confident the seven foot fast bowler will be fit for tomorrow's match.
Pakistan will seek a huge improvement in their batting against a fierce South African attack which includes the likes of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel. The Proteas pace attack is backed by wicket-taking leg-spinner Imran Tahir who has nine wickets in four matches.
Pakistan opener Nasir Jamshed has scores of nought, one and four in the last three matches and it will have to be seen whether Sarfraz Ahmed comes in his place or not tomorrow. They may also have to make a change at number three as Haris Sohail is nursing a heel injury and will need to be assessed to determine his availability, which may arise the possibility of bringing Younis Khan back into the XI.
South Africa, on the other hand, has a problem of plenty with both batsman JP Duminy and pacer Vernon Philander having passed fitness tests and are available for selection. Duminy is likely to replace Farhan Behardien but Philander will face competition for his place from the in-form Kyle Abbott.
The only struggling South African batsman has been opener Quinton de Kock who has only got into double figures once in his last five ODIs and has been struggling with footwork and shot selection. It will have to be sheen whether he makes it to the playing eleven or not tomorrow.
The Teams (From):
Pakistan: Misbah-ul-Haq (captain), Ahmed Shehzad, Nasir Jamshed, Sarfraz Ahmed, Younis Khan, Haris Sohail, Umar Akmal, Sohaib Maqsood, Shahid Afridi, Yasir Shah, Mohammad Irfan, Rahat Ali, Ehsan Adil, Sohail Khan, Wahab Riaz.
South Africa: AB de Villiers (captain), Hashim Amla, Kyle Abbott, Farhaan Behardien, Quinton de Kock, JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Imran Tahir, David Miller, Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Aaron Phangiso, Vernon Philander, Rilee Rossouw, Dale Steyn.
Match Starts: 06:30hrs IST.