Former Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi says he expects the Men in Green to fight hard in the semi-final of 2017 Champions Trophy against England on Wednesday at Cardiff. The all-rounder added that the hosts will be in for a shock if they take their opponents lightly.
With their hard-fought three wicket win over Sri Lanka in what was a virtual quarter-final on Monday, Pakistan finished as runners-up in Group B behind leaders India to make the semi-final of the biennial tournament.
After losing to India and clinching a rain-affected must-win game against world number one South Africa, Pakistan started well yesterday when pacers Junaid Khan and Mohammad Amir struck in the middle overs to rattle the Sri Lankan middle order, which saw Angelo Mathews' men lose their last seven wickets for 75 runs.
In reply, Pakistan opener Fakhar Zaman, playing only his second One Day International, struck a 36-ball 50 to get them off to a solid start. However, Pakistan crumbled as middle-order batsmen Babar Azam, Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik fell cheaply only to be rescued by an unbeaten 75-run stand between skipper Sarfraz and tail-ender Amir.
"I really hope that Pakistan fights hard against England in the semi-final and we see a real fighting effort by the players. One thing is for sure - that England can not afford to take the men in green lightly. If England does that, it can be in for a real shock on Wednesday. I am hoping for another spellbinding Pakistani performance," Afridi wrote, in his column for cricket.com.au.
"Pakistan owes it to its pugnacious captain and the icy cool Amir for a memorable win in a match that it dominated, yet had to put in a mighty struggle to win."
Afrdi though expressed concerns with the way the senior men in the team failed in chase of 237. He pointed out at Hafeez (1) and Malik's (11) no-show as the reason for "enormous stress" on the lower order. The 37-year-old, who finished with 8064 ODI runs, also was all praise for young opening batsman Fakhar.
"We all know that chasing is a real challenge for Pakistani teams regardless of the score. We have traditionally made heavy weather of some small chases and today [Monday] we almost threw the game away chasing another below-par score," Afridi added.
"I really hope that Malik and Hafeez come good in the semi-final since the team would be pinning its hopes on them, especially against a top-class England unit, which unlike Sri Lanka, is not expected to give Pakistan chances of coming back in the game.
"I really hope that the seniors can take a leaf out of Fakhar's book and play with a free mind. Fakhar has been a revelation and once again played with an uncluttered mind."