Vulnerable Pakistan to face up to plucky USA without injured Imad Wasim

USA go into this game high on confidence, having shown heart against Canada and recently upsetting Bangladesh. Pakistan could hardly say the same Imad Wasim had been brought into the squad specifically for his US and Caribbean experience • Getty Images

Match details
USA vs Pakistan Dallas, 10.30am local time

Big picture
“Pakistan the heavyweight, the USA the plucky underdog” isn’t a phrase that rolls off the tongue neatly enough, but those are the sobriquets thrust upon these two sides when they take each other on in Dallas. Cricketing matters aside, this game has enough of a tinge of off-field spice, but add to that an American uptick in form combined with a vulnerable Pakistan unit and the cricketing matters provide intrigue of their own.

USA’s win over Canada in the first game neatly illustrates the danger the hosts pose. The temperament the hosts showed, turning what appeared a near-certain losing position into a comfortable victory, is emblematic of a side high on confidence following on from their stunning 2-1 series win over Bangladesh in the build-up to the tournament. The relative familiarity with the venue also gives USA an added edge, having played against Canada at the same ground.

Pakistan meanwhile, have struggled to get a proper training session in, let alone an actual game, warm-up or official. Rain in Dallas for much of the past week forced Pakistan to move two practice sessions to makeshift indoor facilities, and instead of arriving early to acclimatise, Pakistan spent the past three weeks playing T20I series in Ireland and the UK. They didn’t exactly showcase a fearsome side in search of a title, as inconsistent performances saw them lose one of the three games to Ireland, and comfortably beaten in both completed matches against England.

Pakistan’s woes have been compounded by the confirmed injury to Imad Wasim, specifically brought back to the squad for his US and Caribbean experience. In addition, as the final game against England made crystal clear, the opening combination of Mohammad Rizwan and Babar Azam appears their only viable option, meaning much of the experimentation in the build-up over the past five months has not borne fruit. Several players severely struggling for form means there are points of weakness dotted throughout the order, with Saim Ayub, Azam Khan, and Shadab Khan particularly beleaguered at present.

If the tendency to hop about from triumph to disaster without warning is a characteristically Pakistani trait, belief and self-confidence is unabashedly American. You couldn’t set a better scene or plot more amenable circumstances for an upset, or at the very least a Texan thriller.

Form guide
United States of America: WLWWW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
Pakistan: LLWWL

In the spotlight
Aaron Jones would be a problem for any bowling side, but he matches up particularly well against Pakistan. Jones’ takedown of Canada’s pace and spin bowlers in the middle overs places a lot of pressure on Haris Rauf, Pakistan’s most in-form bowler in that phase. With Imad out and Shadab severely out of nick, there remains the potential for Jones to lead a middle-overs onslaught similar to the one that saw the US storm past Canada in the tournament opener.

As the final T20I against England last week made brutally plain, there is no hiding place for Azam Khan. After a shocker of a game with both bat and gloves, he was singled out for the ire of Pakistan’s media and fans. Some of it was justified, the rest way over the top. But it is obvious Pakistan are struggling to answer the question of what to do with him. Having, in part, selected him because of his recent CPL pedigree, dropping him leaves them light on options for lower-order death-overs hitting. Selecting a player that low on confidence, though, brings its own conundrums, not least whether to give him the gloves when Mohammad Rizwan – a stratospherically better keeper – is a confirmed starter.

Team news
USA have no injury concerns following their win over Canada, and with the hosts playing at the same venue again, they are unlikely to tinker with a winning combination.
USA: 1 Steven Taylor, 2 Monank Patel (capt), 3 Andries Gous (wk), 4 Aaron Jones, 5 Nitish Kumar, 6 Corey Anderson, 7 Harmeet Singh, 8 Shadley van Schalkwyk, 9 Jasdeep Singh, 10 Ali Khan, 11 Saurabh Netravalkar

Imad has been unable to shake off a side strain that kept him out of Pakistan’s final T20I against England last week, meaning balancing the side is a problem for Pakistan. It likely means Shadab will keep his place for all-round potential, while Babar and Rizwan go back up top.
Pakistan: 1 Mohammad Rizwan 2 Babar Azam 3 Usman Khan 4 Fakhar Zaman 5 Azam Khan 6 Iftikhar Ahmed 7 Shadab Khan 8 Shaheen Afridi 9 Haris Rauf 10 Mohammad Amir 11 Abrar Ahmed

Pitch and conditions
Rain sprayed Dallas in the week leading up to the tournament, but has for the large part stayed away since the World Cup began. That should continue to be the case on Thursday, with a full game expected.
The wicket offered early seam movement in each of the first two games with decent bounce and carry, with the opening game – held at this venue – throwing up the two highest scores of the tournament so far.

Stats and trivia
• Pakistan’s attempt to break up Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan failed on just about every count. Saim Ayub scored 229 runs in 15 T20I innings as opener, at an average of 15.26 and a strike rate of 126.51. That average as well as strike rate is lower than either Babar or Rizwan’s as opener since January 2022
• Haris Rauf is five wickets away from becoming just the second Pakistani – after Shadab Khan – to reach 100 T20I wickets
• Of the 23 sixes Aaron Jones has struck in 25 T20I innings, 10 came in his innings against Canada in the World Cup opener

“Certain things are outside your control. We can’t control the weather. In the circumstances, we used the facilities available to us, with the batters and bowlers training indoors. Our team drills also took place indoors, so we’re just trying to utilise the best possible options we have.” Pakistan captain Babar Azam on making do while the Dallas weather refused to play ball
“You know, it’s T20. Once we have good 30-40 minutes on the field, you never know. We can take the game away.” USA captain Monank Patel when asked if his team fancies its chances against Pakistan
Danyal Rasool is ESPNcricinfo’s Pakistan correspondent. @Danny61000

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