Team selection has been one major area of concern for the Pakistan team, to go with other long-standing issues on the field. The men in green have received heavy criticism from various quarters for backing an out of form Shoaib Malik for far too long and not showing faith in young tearaway quick Mohammad Hasnain.
On Sunday, Pakistan – in a must-win match against South Africa – got the first step right by picking left-arm seamer Shaheen Afridi and bringing in Haris Sohail in place of Malik.
The selection of Sohail came a few games too late but it’s better late than never. The left-handed batsman is a proven performer in ODIs and had two centuries under his belt in 2019. But he got dropped from the team after the opening World Cup game against the West Indies where the team was blown away for 105.
Despite the fact that Sohail averages 45 after 35 ODIs and averages a fifty-plus score every third innings, the southpaw warmed the bench as Pakistan’s batting missed more often than it hit the mark in England. But against South Africa, Sohail proved that the management had made a big mistake in dropping him.
Can't believe Haris Sohail was warming the bench in the last three games. Since 2018, he has scored 643 runs in ODIs at an average of 53.58 with two 100s against Australia. #CWC19— Mazher Arshad (@MazherArshad) June 23, 2019
Sohail’s two ODI tons both came this year – against Australia in the UAE. He brought that form to Lord’s on Sunday, cracking a majestic 89 from just 59 deliveries with nine fours and three sixes.
The pace at which Sohail batted showed that he has the game to not only hold the innings together in the middle order but also provide fireworks at the death. His drive for a four followed by a slash for six off Kagiso Rabada – the best South Africa quick – was just the boost Pakistan’s batting and dressing room needed.
Sohail has been playing competitive cricket for 12 years, hence knows his game inside out. There is a fine line between having experience and just hanging around for ages; Sohail falls in the former category. Putting years of knee trouble and an unceremonious axing from the playing XI behind him, Sohail ensured Pakistan’s inning didn’t lose the momentum provided by openers Fakhar Zaman and Imam-ul-Haq, adding 81 with Babar Azam and 71 with Imad Wasim.
Maybe Sohail’s knees will never allow him to be at his best for long. But World Cup’s don’t come around that often and he pounced on the opportunity to almost immediately solve all selection issues plaguing the Pakistan team.
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Carlos Brathwaite almost engineered another unlikely triumph for the West Indies but fell agonisingly short against New Zealand, who moved to the top of the World Cup standings after a thrilling five-run win.
Brathwaite came to the crease amid a cluster of wickets falling as the Windies lurched to 164 for seven in pursuit of 292. But under the Old Trafford floodlights, Brathwaite bludgeoned nine fours and five sixes in a scarcely-believable 80-ball hundred, only to hole out to Trent Boult in the deep as the Windies were all out for 286.
After the match, Windies captain Jason Holder said the defeat, although agonising, gave his team belief.
“We fought right down to the very end. We came right back into the game when pretty much everyone thought the game was over. And credit to the lower half. The guys really put it in their hands today and took responsibility. Top knock by Carlos (Brathwaite). He was outstanding.”
Pakistan and South Africa meet in Match 30 of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 in what is a must-win game for both teams, with Pakistan winning the toss and captain Sarfaraz Ahmed opting to bat at Lord’s.
Both sides have extremely slim chances of making the semi-finals and only a massive collapse by the other teams at the top of the table can help them into the next round.
In the points table, South Africa are eighth with Pakistan ninth with only net run rate separating the two teams. South Africa have played six matches and won just once (against the bottom of the table side Afghanistan) with four defeats and a match getting washed out.
Pakistan, on the other hand, have played one match less with one win (against England), three defeats and a washout as well.
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Pakistan: Imam-ul-Haq, Fakhar Zaman, Babar Azam, Mohammad Hafeez, Sarfaraz Ahmed (capt/wk), Haris Sohail, Imad Wasim, Shadab Khan, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Amir
South Africa: Quinton de Kock (wk), Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis (capt), Aiden Markram, Rassie van der Dussen, David Miller, Andile Phehlukwayo, Chris Morris, Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi, Imran Tahir