Pakistan are finding the recipe for success
Mickey Arthur's methods are rubbing off on talented side
ICC Champions Trophy Group B
Sky Sports 2, 10.30am Monday
Pakistan have gone from the ridiculous to the sublime in their first two matches at the ICC Champions Trophy and will hope to show their better side in the final Group B match against Sri Lanka at Sophia Gardens, Cardiff, which is effectively a knockout contest.
Both teams had their backs to the wall after heavy defeats in the opening matches – Pakistan lost by 124 runs to India (D/L method) and Sri Lanka lost by 96 runs to South Africa.
It seemed likely they would be heading home after the group stage but Pakistan responded with a superb success over South Africa on Wednesday (winning a rain-affected match by 19 runs on the Duckworth-Lewis method) and Sri Lanka registered a seven-wicket victory over India on Thursday after chasing down a target of 321.
Those successes mean that instead of contesting a dead rubber, the teams face a winner-takes-all match which is a quarter-final in all but name.
Pakistan are the narrow favourites and can justify that status because they have room for further improvement.
They still have work to do on their batting but the bowling attack functioned to a high level against South Africa – reducing one of the tournament's most powerful batting line ups to 219-8.
There were a few nervy moments during the run chase but talented 22-year-old number three Babar Azam played a mature knock of 31 not out from 51 balls and helped ease his side back into the competition.
Pakistan can improve further with the bat but they are looking excellent in the field.
Against South African, seamers Mohammed Amir, Junaid Khan and Hasan Ali bowled with control and aggression but the star of the show though was left-arm spinner Imad Wasim, who finished with figures of two for 20 at an economy rate of 2.5.
The bowlers were backed up by an improved performance in the field, demonstrating that the fitness program of coach Mickey Arthur is starting to pay off.
Arthur demanded that all of the Pakistan players pass a fitness test to take part in the tournament and showed his ruthless side by axing wicketkeeper Umar Akmal for failing to meet the standards required.
Pakistan's victory over South Africa is a sign that they are buying into Arthur's methods and the combination of improved fitness levels and natural talent (something they have in abundance) is a cocktail which could see them go far.
Sri Lanka continue to be a side who rely heavily in their batsmen.
Superb contributions from opener Danushka Gunathilaka (76) and top order batsman Kusal Mendis (89) laid the foundations for the victory over India.
But their bowlers are constantly putting pressure on their batsman by failing to restrict opposing sides to manageable totals.
In the last four matches (two warm up games and two ICC Trophy matches) the lowest total Sri Lanka have conceded was the 299-6 South Africa posted at the Oval.
Chasing 300 plus every time is a tough ask and would be extremely difficult against a Pakistan side who are showing so much improvement in the field.
Sri Lanka's batting line up is very strong but the bowling – overly reliant on unorthodox 33-year-old death bowler Lasith Malinga – is suspect and may cost them a place in the last four.
The wicket at Sophia Gardens has offered something for batsman and bowler. England posted 310 all out against New Zealand but three of the four totals have been sub 270.
Batsman Kusal Pereira retired hurt on 47 with hamstring injury during the victory over India and has not recovered. Dhananjaya de Silva has been called into the squad and is in contention.
Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur is likely to stick with the 11 who performed so well against South Africa. Seamer Wahab Riaz (ankle) is out for the tournament.
A full day's play looks likely in Cardiff although conditions will be overcast with the temperature peaking at 16C.
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