Sarfraz Ahmed leads from the front as Pakistan qualify for Champions Trophy semi-finals

Sport360 staff 12/06/2017

Sarfraz Ahmed (61* off 79 balls) and Mohammad Amir (28* off 43 balls) put on an unbeaten 75-run partnership to guide Pakistan into the semi-finals of the ICC Champions Trophy as they defeated Sri Lanka by three wickets in a thrilling contest at Sophia Gardens, Cardiff on Monday.

Chasing 237 to win, Pakistan had got off to a good start with Fakhar Zaman (50 off 36 balls) and Azhar Ali (34 off 50 balls) adding 74 runs for the first wicket. Zaman was especially superb as he brought up his first ODI half-century.

Then, came a batting collapse that Pakistan are so familiar with as they lost wickets at regular intervals and were reduced to 162-7.

That was when Amir joined his captain Sarfraz in the middle and the duo batted sensibly to bring their team right back into the game.

Sri Lanka had their chances with a couple of catches going down and that cost them dearly as Sarfraz notched up an unbeaten half-century and saw his side home alongside Amir.

Earlier, Pakistan pacers Junaid Khan and Hasan Ali picked up three wickets each as Sri Lanka were bowled out for 236 after being put into bat.

Opener Niroshan Dickwella top scored for Sri Lanka with a 86-ball 73 and formed decent partnerships of 56 with Kusal Mendis (27 off 29 balls) and 78 with skipper Angelo Mathews (39 off 54 balls). But the wicket of Mathews in the 32nd over triggered a batting collapse which saw the Lankans lose four wickets for just six runs.

A 46-run partnership for the eighth wicket between Asela Gunaratne (27 off 44 balls) and Suranga Lakmal (26 off 34 balls) took Sri Lanka past the 200-run mark but that wasn’t enough in the end.

Amir and debutant Fahim Ashraf also made contributions with the ball, with both taking two wickets apiece.

Pakistan will now face hosts England in the first semi-final at the same venue i.e Sophia Gardens, Cardiff on Wednesday.

BRIEF SCORES

Sri Lanka 236 all out, 49.2 overs [Dickwella 73, Junaid 3-40, Hasan 3-43] lost to Pakistan 237-7, 44.5 overs [Sarfraz 61*, Zaman 50, Pradeep 3-60] by three wickets.

Player of the Match - Sarfraz Ahmed.

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India put in a dominant display [Getty Images]

Is there any team in world cricket that wants to win an ICC tournament more than South Africa? They have one title to their name, the earliest avatar of this ICC Champions Trophy, won back in 1998 when it was named the ICC Knock Out. That triumph is only a faint memory for anyone related to this cricket team, and undoubtedly it doesn’t count for much.

You just have to listen to AB de Villiers talk about what it means to win an ICC tournament. He has not experienced it before but aspires to before he hangs up his boots, which by the look of things could be as soon as 2019. In that light, another opportunity has gone a-begging. South Africa – the world’s No1 ranked ODI side – are out of the 2017 Champions Trophy.

That, however, is an understatement. India’s margin of victory – by eight wickets – and the fact that the Proteas were bowled out for just 191 runs in 44.3 overs says it was a thorough pummeling. Dig deeper through what transpired though, and it would seem another case of hara-kiri from a South African cricket team.

“We do come up short for some reason in tournaments like this, and it is pretty sad. I cannot explain to you what exactly happens. I think you saw it out there today,” said de Villiers, at a loss of words to explain how the No1 ranked side was ousted after two losses in three matches. “It was just a poor batting performance and nothing to do with the energy or intensity or believe in the team. We felt we had a great chance today. We came here to win a game of cricket, (but) then we just unravelled as a side out there.”

Put into bat, the slide began when Ravindra Jadeja (1-39) bowled Quinton de Kock (53). That wicket was etched out by a clever plan – the batsman bowled immediately after attempting a reverse sweep on the previous ball. In a way, it undid the work done by the opening duo of de Kock and Hashim Amla (35) who had put on 76 runs. That is how South Africa, like most teams in the competition, have played so far – keep wickets in hand and then charge later in the innings.

Only it didn’t work this time, as two run-outs put paid to de Villiers (16) and David Miller (1), triggering a collapse that saw eight wickets fall for 51 runs.

“I take full responsibility for the first run-out with AB. It was my call and my fault. I thought there was a run there. Then, we had the second run-out because of confusion with Miller. We were never able to recover from that,” said Faf du Plessis (36), involved in both mix-ups.

Let it be said here that it wasn’t all South Africa’s own undoing. India played a helping hand of course; first with a tight line in the first 10 overs as South Africa were restricted to 35-0, and then, piling on the pressure when the run-outs came about.

AB de Villiers walks back after his run-out [Getty Images]

AB de Villiers walks back after his run-out [Getty Images]

If there was nothing different about South Africa from other pressure situations wherein they have faltered, then India were a distinctive picture from their last two games against Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

They were bowling to a plan, as always, but their intensity in the field was once again very familiar. This was a modern-day Indian team as we have come to know – athletic, energetic, pushing the opposition by cutting out errors on the field and inducing mistakes that lead to chances for wickets, never mind saving runs alone.

The Men in Blue – from Yuvraj Singh on old legs, to fast bowlers like Jasprit Bumrah, to the skipper himself – were throwing themselves all over the park, and were all over South Africa’s batsmen like a rash.

“It is known how we wanted to improve our fielding. I think we needed this kind of a fielding performance, and before going out, we had a chat in the huddle that I want to see everyone’s intensity go up. That was a conscious effort we have to make individually in such a big game,” Kohli said after the match.

Once South Africa were reduced to 142-4 with de Villiers and Miller back in the hut, it was about not letting the game drift away and keeping the target as low as possible.

No one though could have imagined the Proteas – with four batsmen in the top ten ODI rankings – to fold for a sub-200 total. On pitches where 300-plus is just about par, this was an unacceptable innings. South Africa self-combusted, really, and India were never going to be in trouble, as seen in the ease with which they chased it down.

In the end, then, it is once again about desire – the regular absentee on a big day for one team while the other lifted itself into the semi-finals. De Villiers might defend it, du Plessis might acknowledge blame for a middle-order collapse, and others will scratch their heads as to what went wrong again.

Meanwhile, another chapter has been written down in South Africa’s sad, almost pitiful history in ICC tournaments.

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A dive is not enough for AB de Villiers as MS Dhoni takes off the bails [Getty Images]

SOUTH AFRICA’S TWO RUN-OUTS

South Africa were beginning to gain momentum as star batsmen Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers were scoring at almost six an over. But that’s when they overdid the running part and ended up losing two wickets within a space of six balls.

On both counts, du Plessis was the guilty party, first going ahead with a non-existing single that resulted in the exit of de Villiers. Having tapped Ravindra Jadeja straight to Hardik Pandya at point, du Plessis took off for a run but when the throw came in and MS Dhoni whipped off the bails, de Villiers was short of the crease despite a desperate dive.

One over later, du Plessis cut a quick-ish Ravichandran Ashwin delivery to the short third man area manned by Jasprit Bumrah but after taking a few steps he was caught in two minds about going for the run.

Non-striker David Miller had no such doubts as he dashed in. Instead of going ahead with the run, du Plessis turned and dived to regain his crease. But by then Miller was at the same end.

It was an easy run-out for the Indians as Bumrah threw the ball to the non-striker’s end where Virat Kohli gleefully took off the bails. South Africa never recovered from the double blow and they were bowled out for 191.

DHAWAN BREAKS SHACKLES

India began their 192-run chase racing to 23 in 5.3 overs, but the South Africans gained control when Rohit Sharma made an exit playing a rash shot.

In the next four overs, the Proteas hounded Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli as India could add just three runs in 22 balls. Suddenly, the pressure was back on India but that was when Dhawan decided to break free and he did it in style with two beautifully timed boundaries in the tenth over.

The first was a firm off drive played in the V that sped past AB de Villiers at mid-off and he followed it up with another cracking shot through a packed off-side field. From thereon, Dhawan was rarely troubled as he took charge and dominated the bowling.

AMLA FLUFFS A TOUGH CHANCE

Andile Phehlukwayo was included in place of Wayne Parnell as the South African team management felt he would be more effective against the Indians than the left-arm pacer.

The 21-year-old did create an impression by troubling Kohli with his pace. The Indian captain had a torrid time facing Phehlukwayo as he failed to connect his off-drives and came agonisingly close to edging the ball to the wicketkeeper a few times.

The only time South Africa came close to dismissing Kohli was when a thick edge off Phehlukwayo, in the 16th over, flew off to the lone slip fielder Hashim Amla but he failed to latch on to the catch.

Amla’s low one-handed dive to grab the chance did not yield the desired results. Kohli was then on 21 and India’s score read 65-1. The Indian No.3 made it count with another fighting knock (76*) to guide India through to the semi-finals.

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