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Battle lines drawn

As the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) Champions Trophy reached its business end, holders India and favourites England topped their respective groups and, as expected, made it to the last four.

But the other two semifinalists are a big surprise.

Bangladesh qualified as the second team from Group A that featured more fancied teams like Australia and New Zealand while Pakistan edged ‘perennial chokers’ South Africa and Sri Lanka to make the cut from Group B.

Of course, rain did help Bangladesh’s cause as the washout and the resultant share of points in their group match against Australia which the latter was well on course to win tilted the scales in their favour.

But that does not take the shine off the Tigers who defied the odds to beat New Zealand in a match, in which Shakib Al Hasan and Mahmudullah did the rescue act with fighting centuries after they had collapsed to 33 for four while chasing 265.

In the first semifinal at Cardiff on Wednesday, Pakistan have their task cut out as they take on England who are in red-hot form.

The hosts are the only unbeaten team in the competition and, on paper, look invincible.

The only concern is the poor form of opener Jason Roy, who has scored just 51 runs in eight one-dayers this season. Skipper Eoin Morgan dropped hints that Roy would be replaced with Jonny Bairstow, who hit a career-best 174 off 113 balls for county side Yorkshire against Durham last month.

In all-rounder Ben Stokes, who knocked out Australia with a stunning century, and the ever-improving seamer Mark Wood, they have genuine match winners.

For Pakistan, the world has turned upside down in a week. They looked battered and bruised after crushing defeat to arch-rivals India. But the rain-affected win against South Africa and Sarfraz Ahmed-inspired victory against Sri Lanka have given them a new-found confidence which they hope to carry on against England.

The second semifinal, to be held in Birmingham on Thursday, draws familiar Asian foes India and Bangladesh.

Virat Kohli-led India were quick to recover from the shock defeat to Sri Lanka as they mauled South Africa on their way to the last four.

Bangladesh have upset India in the past, their famous win in the 2007 World Cup putting paid to the latter’s hopes. But in recent times, India have had the upper hand, especially in ICC tournaments like the 50-over World Cup quarterfinal in 2016 and Twenty20 World Cup tie in 2016.

India, on current form, would be hoping to extend that.

If things go according to the script, a repeat of the 2013 Champions Trophy final between India and England is on the cards. But if cricket lives up to its ‘game of glorious uncertainties’ tag, then anything can happen. dsp

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