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Saturday, 17 November, 2018

England sensation Stokes can play pivotal role against Pakistan

All-rounder is a likely match-winner

England ace Ben Stokes is a key man in the Rajasthan batting order
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ICC Champions Trophy semi-final
Sky Sports 2, 10.30am Wednesday

England are the only unbeaten side heading into the semi-finals of the ICC Champions Trophy and it's no shock to see Eoin Morgan's fearless team priced up as heavy favourites to see off Pakistan in Cardiff.

Bookmakers make England no bigger than 4-11 to seal a place in Sunday's final and few would argue that they deserve to be that price after three convincing group-stage performances.

Morgan's men opened up with comfortable victories over Bangladesh and New Zealand and, with their fate already decided, backed up those impressive displays by knocking out old rivals Australia.

Only once, when Australia had the Three Lions on the ropes at 35-3 chasing 277, have England looked troubled. But Ben Stokes and captain Morgan stepped in to put on 159 for the fourth wicket, moving the hosts a long way ahead of the Duckworth-Lewis target before the rain came down.

If England's progress was serene, Pakistan's was typically chaotic. 

They were bowled out for just 164 chasing 289 against India in their Group B opener but regrouped at Edgbaston to restrict South Africa to 219, eventually winning by 19 runs on Duckworth-Lewis.

Pakistan bowled well once again in Cardiff on Monday as they limited Sri Lanka to 236 but the Greens' obvious batting deficiencies made for a nervous chase as the Lankans reduced them to 162-7.

Mohammad Amir and skipper Sarfraz Ahmed dug in to see their side over the line but not one of Pakistan's performances has marked them out as likely winners. That's why they are 6-1 shots to go all the way.

They simply don't possess the same batting power that England, and tournament joint-favourites India, boast.

Four of the top five in England's batting order - Alex Hales, Joe Root, Morgan and Stokes - have scored at least 150 runs in the group stage but none of the Pakistan line-up has notched a century in the competition and they are likely to struggle to compete with England. 

The one Englishman to fail with the willow, Jason Roy, looks set to be replaced at the top of the order by Yorkshire's Jonny Bairstow. England might have been reluctant to tinker with a winning side, but they clearly believe the 27-year-old can boost an already dangerous batting line-up.

Bairstow batted at number five in this format against Ireland, scoring 82 unbeaten runs in the two-match series, and he also struck a fluent 51 against South Africa in a Lord's warm-up.

He has opened for Yorkshire in the One-Day Cup this season, scoring 268 runs at an average of 53.60, but the bulk of his tally came in one scintillating knock against Durham where he smashed 174 to help the White Rose county chase down 335.

Bet365 offer 9-2 that Bairstow top-scores but that looks a risky proposition as he opens for the first time in international company against an attack which struck early in each of the last two matches.

England have plenty of match-winners among their ranks but perhaps Stokes is the man most likely to earn the hosts a spot in Sunday's final.

The all-rounder has not been at his dangerous best with the ball in hand but he has been devastating with the bat since returning from IPL duty with Rising Pune Supergiant.

Stokes has scored 25, 101, 48 and 102 not out in his four recent ODI innings and he could play a pivotal role in this semi-final. The 26-year-old is 6-1 to top the scoring charts but, with England the likely winners, the 10-1 on offer that he is named man of the match could prove to be better value.

B Stokes to be man of the match
1pt 10-1 Boyles, Coral, Ladbrokes

Pakistan simply don't possess the same batting power that England, and tournament joint-favourites India, boast
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