With surprises at almost every turn so far, Shane Watson is relishing the uncertainty that comes with the two semi-finals of the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup in Australia.
From Namibia’s win over Sri Lanka on Sunday to Pakistan’s miraculous comeback late in the semi-finals, form guides have been thrown out the window, leaving the remaining four teams somewhat divided.
New Zealand will face Pakistan in Sydney on Wednesday and India will face England at the Adelaide Oval on Thursday. The winners will then meet at the MCG on Sunday, likely in front of a capacity crowd.
Before taking a look at the form of the remaining four teams, Watson hailed the standard of cricket so far at the event and paid tribute to the rivals who played their part in making the tournament entertaining.
“The upsets – the lower nations upset the big teams – it was something nobody expected,” Watson said.
“This means that everyone’s eyes are on every game. You can’t just think it’s going to be a game that’s easily won, so it’s been a really great T20 World Cup to be a part of.
For Pakistani fans, the T20 World Cup has been quite the rollercoaster. Falling to India and Zimbabwe in the last ball game, their side rallied to beat the Netherlands and South Africa before nervously waiting for other results on the final day of Super 12 action.
The Dutch gave Pakistan a lifeline by defeating South Africa, before Babar Azam’s men took advantage of an inevitable chance to go ahead and edge out Bangladesh.
After making it to the final four, Pakistan have almost nothing to lose in the eyes of the legendary Australian player and will ask the team to express themselves at the end of their tournament.
“There are certain times in any tournament where a team just falls off the line, somehow gets to the final and then goes on to win, especially when they didn’t expect to make it to the semi-finals because of the way they played. At certain times throughout this tournament,” Watson said.
“The freedom they will have because they didn’t expect much in the middle of the tournament, the freedom they will have will be very dangerous for the Kiwis.”
Standing in Pakistan’s way are New Zealand, who overshadowed Australia in the opening match of the Super 12 tournament and put the host’s title defense on a spin.
Opener Finn Allen, who stunned Australia with a blitz up front at the SCG, is Kiwi Watson’s key.
“Finn Allen was an absolute asset to them,” Watson noted.
“What he’s been able to do in the Powerplay to take on the best bowlers in the world has really given New Zealand the edge to be able to play like them.
“They have world-class players around their team but Finn Allen has really been the X-factor that has really helped them. It will be interesting to see him play against the quality pace of Pakistan in Sydney.”
In Adelaide, an Indian side, with its strength in depth, built by a throaty domestic scene, can only edge England for the favorites tag.
Having rubbed shoulders with the current crop in the IPL circuit, Watson feels that finding the right 11 players to field in the squad is perhaps India’s biggest challenge.
“You see the depth grow and grow and finally. India could field another team of world-class players who are currently sitting at home. They’ve got a lot of talent waiting to come in and put their hands up,” he said.
“It’s a concern for other countries because they know they have another team at home, at least one more team sitting at home, who can shake this World Cup as well.”
One thing in England’s favor is the last result between the teams, although Jos Buttler’s men defended 215 at Trent Bridge in July.
Watson feels that the English are a tough proposition in semi-final cricket and India might want to come up with a different opponent.
“India would certainly have preferred to play anyone else in this semi-final in Adelaide because they know England have a world-class team and have a good record against them,” Watson said.
“They will be two great games of cricket, no question.”