The knockout stages of any tournament provides unparalleled sporting pressure. A simple task, win or go home. There are no second chances, no redos. Sport at its most intense.
A stray ball, bad decision or a hot headed moment can make or break a team performance.
This week, in the United Arab Emirates, four of the in-form cricketing nations will compete in that pressure cooker in the hope of winning the T20 World Cup.
England, Pakistan, New Zealand and Australia remain, and each now has a route to Sunday’s final. Getting there, though, won’t be easy.
World Cup mission
Today, Group 1 winners England take on Group 2 runners-up New Zealand in Abu Dhabi. Both sides had an 80 per cent win record in the group stages, victorious in four out of the five matches they played.
England have by far the best net run rate in the tournament, with 2.464 – the next best being Pakistan on 1.583.
Eoin Morgan’s side have also produced dominant wins in all but one of their matches.
England are without two first-choice players in seamer Tymal Mills and opener Jason Roy.
Hwever, England’s depth will be tested in these (potentially two) remaining World Cup fixtures.
Captain Eoin Morgan has had plenty to be pleased with, such as Jos Buttler using his 360 degree batting game to keep England on the front foot and Moeen Ali’s bowling spells.
Buttler has the best batting average of any player at the World Cup, with 120, and the highest single-innings score, a 101 not out. He also sits second in runs scored with 240, making him a threat right from the very first ball.
England seemingly have it all as they back up their world No1 tag, despite players looking unconvincing in the IPL, and, with pre-tournament favourites India out of the way, they are odds-on favourites heading into today’s match.
Kiwi will threaten
New Zealand and England have played each other 21 times. The Black Caps won seven, England have won 13 and the teams share one no result – in 2013.
New Zealand bring with them experience and class. Opener Martin Guptill, captain Kane Williamson and bowler Trent Boult are the spine of a side capable with bat and ball.
Boult has the joint second-most wickets with 11, behind Wanindu Hasaranga on 16.
That said, the seamer is 27th when it comes to World Cup bowling economy – something to focus on against England.
Like India’s Virat Kohli, Williamson is a key player in all forms of cricket and offers a mix of stability, shot choice and composure.
He has scored 126 runs in this tournament, which is way down on what he would have aimed heading into the knockouts.
he is a threat in a very dangerous, and deep, Black Cap middle order.
Like England, the Black Caps won four of their five matches, their only loss coming to the Pakistan, who were undefeated in the group stages.
It’s an evenly matched game but on a skidding surface, winning the toss and having the choice to bowl first could be paramount to success.
Uphill battle for Aussies
Pakistan, who face Australia tomorrow, have emerged as a real danger in this World Cup. Although never written off, in a group with the likes of India and New Zealand they were seen as a potential third place side.
Days from the final, however, Pakistan are the only unbeaten side left in the competition. They’re the in-form outfit out of the four.
Opener Babar Azam has the most runs in the competition with 264. And Pakistan take three of the top five spots for batting average following the group matches.
They’re a seriously difficult side to break down and will pose a huge threat to the Green and Golds of Australia when they play tomorrow.
With the best record and the most wins, Pakistan will need to be taken seriously by Australia. This Pakistan side swept aside India for their first World Cup win over their rivals. They then toppled New Zealand, Afghanistan, Scotland and Namibia on their way to top spot in Group 2.
In their way stand Australia, who at one point looked to be on their way out of the tournament. But South Africa couldn’t take their chances and the Green and Golds booked their spot in the knockouts.
Bowler Adam Zampa has the joint second-most wickets alongside Boult.
And batter David Warner is getting his Ashes practice in, knocking 187 runs in his five matches.
They’ll be looking for a spot in the T20 World Cup final against neighbours New Zealand or fierce rivals England.