Battle For Semi Final Intensified
33 of 45 matches of preliminary round is already played. Apart from reigning champion Australia semi final berth of no other team is still confirmed.
The battle for semi final berth intensified as one of the fringe teams Pakistan achieved an impressive win by 6 wickets against one of the two unbeaten sides New Zealand yesterday at Birmingham.
The opportunity for cementing a place among top four was there for taking by New Zealand .Losing that opportunity New Zealand complicated its situation having 11 points after 7 matches. With two matches remaining against Australia and England it is not sure that they can make it.
On the other hand unpredictable Pakistan after the win yesterday brightened its possibility for storming into top four with 7 points in 7 matches. They have to win both their matches against Afghanistan and Bangladesh for that.
Batting first on a juicy wicket gripping and turning New Zealand could post a below par 237/6 in allotted overs. Pakistan batting brilliantly overhauled the target scoring 241/4 with 5 balls to spare.
Wonder how history repeats itself. In 1992 the world cup that Pakistan won New Zealand was impregnable till it met Pakistan struggling for its foothold in the event till then. Pakistan won by 7 wickets in that match when Ramiz Raza scored century and an emerging talent Wasim Akram bowled brilliantly winning the match for Pakistan.
That was their turning point. Imran Khan’s cornered tigers went on winning the cup beating England at MCG. Till yesterday New Zealand was unbeaten in the tournament and was placed second behind Australia with 11 points from 6 matches.
Pakistan was in the bottom zone with 5 points from 6 matches. This win opens the window for Pakistan with 7 points from 7 matches. Pakistan is now at 5th position just behind Bangladesh.
Many thought winning the toss and batting first at Birmingham was not a smart decision. The wicket retaining some moisture below the dry surface had lot of assistance for the bowlers early on. Boult, Henry and Ferguson could test Pakistan top order on such a condition.
Instead two Pakistani left arm pacers Amir and Shahin Afridi cornered the Kiwis. Guptill (5) was in the first over of Amir. Munro, Taylor and Latham were blown away by accurate Afridi in quick succession. Afridi bowled at pace at right channel and moved appreciably.
Kiwis’ innings was stalled at 4/46 in the 13th over. Williamson and Neesham resurrected the innings to some extent. But lot of overs were bowled as Kiwis crawled. Even Hafiz giving 22 runs in 7 overs put a break on them. Shadab Khan removing Williamson (41) further dented them.
Finally Neesham and Grandhomme knitting a good partnership of 132 for the 6th wicket put some respectability of Kiwi innings. Neesham remained unbeaten scoring 97. Grandhomme scored 64. Still 236/7 appeared a fighting score considering the prodigious turn and bounce the spinners were getting.
For a change Pakistan bowled and fielded with intent on the day. Shahin Shah Afridi took 3/28 in his 10 overs.
A different Pakistan appeared on the day. Fakhar Zaman and Imam Ul Haque however appeared in a haste and were sent back early by Boult and Ferguson.
Talented Babar Azam looked solid and in pristine form on the day. His drives and cuts were pleasing to the eye. Veteran Hafiz somehow survived giving him company with several play and miss. Santner was turning the ball square. New Zealand missed a quality spinner.
Part time spinner Williamson had Hafiz loose his wicket. Another talented youngster Harris Sohail joined sparkling Babar Azam. These two weathering Kiwi storm and brilliantly counter attacking took Pakistan close to impressive victory adding 126 runs for the third wicket.
Babar remained not out scoring 101 in 127 deliveries striking 11 fours. This was the first century a Pakistan batsman scored after 1992. Harris scored 68 in 76 deliveries with 6 fours and two sixes. For reasons best known to Williamson Kiwi strike bowlers Ferguson did not bowl their quota of 10 overs each.
New Zealand possibly missed Tim Southee and Ish Sodhi on the day.
This loss has made New Zealand fate uncertain. They are not very sure that they can win any of the match against Australia and England. Losing winning momentum at such a stage may be suicidal for them.
On the other hand this win has brightened Pakistan’s opportunity for a last minute entrance into group of four. They need winning against Afghanistan and Bangladesh. It may ultimately turn out that few teams would end at same points.
ICC World Cup 2019 Match No 33 Played At Birmingham on 26 June
Pakistan Vs New Zealand
Pakistan 241/4 (Babar Azam 101*, Harris Sohail 68, Mohammad Hafiz 32) beat New Zealand 237/6 (JDS Neesham 97*, C de Grandhomme 64, KS Williamson 41, Shahin Shah Afridi 3/28) by 6 wickets.
Player of the Match: Babar Azam
[Khondkar Saleque Sufi is an eminent international Energy Consultant and Sports Analyst, currently living in Brisbane, Australia]