Pakistan kept their hopes of qualifying for the 2019 ICC World Cup semi-final alive with a hard-fought six-wicket win over New Zealand at Birmingham.
An unbeaten 10th ODI ton from Babar Azam along with a superb bowling display by Shaheen Afridi (3-28) were at the forefront of Pakistan’s win as New Zealand’s unbeaten run in the tournament finally came to an end.
The win propelled the Men in Green to sixth spot in the table and they are now just one point behind hosts England in fourth place with both teams having played seven matches apiece.
Chasing a challenging target of 238 on a spinning Edgbaston track, Pakistan lose their openers Imam-ul-Haq and Fakhar Zaman early before they recovered through a half-century stand between Babar and Mohammad Hafeez.
Hafeez threw away an excellent start in an attempt to hoist a Kane Williamson delivery for six to give the Kiwis another opening in the game. However, Babar was resolute at one end to keep Pakistan afloat and the right-hander found able support from an in-form Haris Sohail.
The pair added a match-winning 126-run stand before Haris was run-out on the verge of victory after scoring his second consecutive half-century. Skipper Sarfraz Ahmed was on hand to score the winning runs off the final over of the match.
Earlier, Kane Williamson’s decision to bat first backfired with New Zealand getting off to a horror start. Mohammad Amir’s excellent World Cup campaign continued with the pacer dismissing Martin Guptill with his very first delivery to give Pakistan a roaring start.
However, it was a sensational spell from young Shaheen Afridi that did the most damage with the left-armed seamer picking up three top-order wickets in a quick-burst.
Afridi’s extra bounce and pace accounted for the dismissals of Colin Munro, Ross Taylor and Tom Latham in quick succession with New Zealand reduced to 46-4. It went from bad to worse for the Kiwis when Shadab Khan sent back a determined Williamson with a ripper of a delivery in the 27th over.
The Kiwis fought back through a resolute sixth-wicket stand between all-rounders James Neesham and Colin de Grandhomme who both struck valuable half-centuries to take their side to a respectable total of 237-6.
The duo dug deep in a 132-run partnership with Neesham remaining unbeaten on 97 off 112 deliveries.
Babar’s class shines through
Pakistan’s batting in the World Cup was always going to revolve around Babar but the right-hander had failed to really come to the fore until Wednesday’s clash.
Although he had registered two half-centuries previously, the 24-year-old had failed to really together the big innings to take his side across the finish line.
At Edgbaston, he finally showed his class in a polished century made under difficult conditions. The Pakistan man had to survive a testing period in the middle-overs when Mitchell Santner was tightening the screws but he showed the value of patience by accelerating in the second half of his innings.
He performed the anchor role to perfection against the Kiwis and showed excellent determination to remain unbeaten. His maiden World Cup ton couldn’t have come at a better time for Pakistan ahead of their two must-win remaining clashes.
Pakistan’s win was built on the back of a superb bowling display led by 19-year-old Afridi. The Men in Green had previously been crying out for support for lead pacer Amir and that was duly provided by Afridi against the Kiwis.
The young left-armer was on the money from his very first delivery in a terrific extended opening spell filled with aggression and intensity.
The teenager was willing to bend his back and it paid dividends with the extra bounce he generated accounting for the dismissals of Munro and Taylor. His delivery to find Latham’s outside edge was a terrific one as well with the ball leaving the left-hander.
Not only was Afridi among the wickets, he was also extremely economical with his initial seven-over spell going for only 11 runs with the help of three maidens.
⏺️⏺️⏺️4️⃣⏺️⏺️⏺️W⏺️⏺️⏺️⏺️⏺️3️⃣⏺️1️⃣⏺️W⏺️⏺️⏺️⏺️⏺️⏺️1️⃣⏺️W⏺️⏺️⏺️⏺️⏺️⏺️⏺️⏺️⏺️⏺️⏺️1️⃣⏺️1️⃣1️⃣— Cricket World Cup (@cricketworldcup) June 26, 2019
Shaheen Afridi has figures of 3/11 from his first seven overs 👏 👏 #CWC19 | #NZvPAK | #WeHaveWeWill pic.twitter.com/TJZhAjsmtY
Babar breaches 3,000-run mark
During the course of his innings, Babar Azam went past 3,000 runs in the ODI format and became the second quickest in history to do so.
The 68 innings taken by the Pakistan man to get to the mark is one fewer than what Windies legend Sir Viv Richards took. It is only slower than Hashim Amla who breached the 3,000-run barrier in just 57 innings.
It was a match Pakistan had to win in order to keep their 2019 World Cup campaign. New Zealand won the toss and decided to bat first on a bone dry pitch in Birmingham. The Men in Green had to make an impact with the ball as they aren’t renowned chasers in ODI cricket.
With pressure well and truly on Pakistan, it was young left-arm fast bowler Shaheen Afridi who rose to the occasion and outbowled senior left-arm quicks Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz to finish with super figures of 3-28 from his 10 overs which helped restrict the Kiwis to 237-6.
It was a stupendous display of control, pace and swing from the talented left-hander.
Before the match started, legendary left-arm pacer Wasim Akram had a chat with Shaheen where he advised the youngster to pitch the ball up and not look to bang the ball in the pitch. Afridi did exactly what he was asked to, getting Ross Taylor and Tom Latham caught behind and Colin Munro caught at slip off full balls. On a pitch where the ball was holding up, Afridi was spot on with his lines and length.
Shaheen Afridi is having an absolute blinder. He's just known the perfect length to bowl, hitting a good (6m-8m) length with 52% of his deliveries - he's never found that length as often in his ODI career. #CWC19 pic.twitter.com/z6WtPV8VME— The CricViz Analyst (@cricvizanalyst) June 26, 2019
Pitching the ball up in helpful conditions and drawing the edge is easier said than done – ask England quicks who struggled to do so against Australia at Lord’s. Afridi was at the batsman at all times, managing what experienced team-mate Amir couldn’t. The Kiwi batsmen couldn’t line the left-arm pacer up and even though Amir (1-67) and Riaz (0-55) went for plenty, Afridi was a class apart.
You can’t find many faults in the most economical spell by a Pakistan fast bowler in World Cups since Akram’s 2-27 in 1999. What a moment to come up with your A game.
Cricket in sunny St John’s Wood is always an amazing affair – the razzmatazz, the buzz of the crowd, waving of flags… and a World Cup clash.
There was a sea of green inside and outside the Lord’s ground as Pakistan and South Africa faced off last Sunday. The ‘home of cricket’ was buzzing and will continue to do so when it hosts the final in a few weeks from now.
On my way inside Lord’s on Sunday, I passed what is now a regular fixture at ICC tournaments and the English home season – the Gray-Nicolls stand, the official equipment supplier for the tournament. Anyone who is anyone in cricket has used their equipment at one time or another. They have had legends such as Brian Lara, Matthew Hayden, Alistair Cook and David Warner, not to mention England’s Jonny Bairstow and Shadab Khan of Pakistan among others.
The staff at Gray-Nicolls have one of the hardest jobs in this tournament, having to travel up and down the country for matches. Alex Hohenkerk, who is the one of the master batmakers in the company, has the unenviable task of setting up the stand at various venues during the course of the tournament. In the short time Alex could spare, I tried to understand what happens during a World Cup day at a Gray-Nicolls stand.
“I finished at Old Trafford last evening after the West Indies game, packed up, jumped on the motorway and headed south towards London, reached London at 2 am and was at Lord’s at 7:30 this morning,” Alex told Sport360.
“I need at least five cups of coffee to keep me going during the course of the day. Trust me, I need them all.”
What makes their job tougher is the fact that the stand has to be up and running at the six main venues at the World Cup during match days.
“It’s a tough thing to do, especially when you have to get representatives out to showcase the brand, talk about it. And to do so we have to cover the ‘platinum’ grounds, which are Lord’s, The Oval, Edgbaston, Old Trafford, the Rose Bowl, and Trent Bridge. You have to get a full team on board… we’ve five here today at Lord’s,” Alex explained.
“Logistically it sounds like a nightmare, but we have a great team here and it’s not as bad as it may sound. It gives us a chance to discuss our brand all over the country, which we all love doing. I mean anyone who loves cricket, can talk cricket all day long. Our products are always evolving, albeit with a traditional touch, which is something that attracts many players to Gray-Nicolls.”
It’s not all networking and corporate engagements though. There is the odd occasion when a contracted player needs a bat. At such times, that work takes precedence. “We get the odd non-contracted player also asking us to repair a bat,” says Alex.
“We set up stall each morning. Then during the course of the day we get all sorts of questions, anything from are we using English willow, what’s the cellular infrastructure of a bat… and so on. Not to forget the demand for kits, even from players, while I’m trying to make five to six bats.”
During the course of this interview, Alex was asked to make another bat. It is a long process and I’m surprised he does it with the limited amount of tools at hand. Not wanting to take up any more of his time, I asked him the most important question – who made the Gray-Nicolls guitar? It’s a special guitar made in the shape of a bat by the manufacturers and a regular feature at stands at the World Cup.
“I did, though it was strung at a guitar specialist in Taunton, a real work of art if I do say so myself,” Alex said with pride.
I left Alex to carry on with his bat making, returning to the confines of the media centre, happy in my new-found knowledge of cellular infrastructure of a bat.