Pakistan batsman Babar Azam has termed his match-winning ton against New Zealand in the 2019 ICC World Cup as the best innings of his ODI career so far.
The 24-year-old registered his maiden World Cup ton and 10th overall of his one-day career at Birmingham on Wednesday to help Pakistan chase down a stiff target of 238 runs with six wickets to spare.
The right-handed batsman had to survive a testing spell from Mitchell Santner on a rank turner of a pitch and then went on to play the anchor role to perfection to help keep Pakistan’s semi-final hopes alive at the World Cup.
“Yes, I agree this is my best innings,” Babar told broadcaster Star Sports after Pakistan’s hard-fought win.
“The wicket was difficult and turned a lot in the second half. The plan was to go through to the end and give my 100 per cent.
“When we started, the plan was to see out (Lockie) Ferguson. But when Santner came on, the plan became not to give wickets to him and cover up later when the fast bowlers come on.”
Babar’s innings also came in for praise from his skipper Sarfraz Ahmed who credited a team performance for Pakistan’s six-wicket win.
“The way we played today, it was a great team effort,” Sarfraz said.
“All the bowlers did really well and in the end Babar and Haris (Sohail) – one of the finest batting I’ve ever seen.
“Credit goes to Babar and Haris, the way they played on this pitch.”
The remarkable parallels between Pakistan’s 1992 and 2019 World Cup campaigns were maintained on Wednesday with both sides having notched three wins and a no-result apiece at the same stage.
That 1992 side led by Imran Khan went on to clinch the World Cup leading to suggestions from Pakistan fans that Sarfraz’s men might be able to do the same. The Pakistan skipper, however, is not reading too much into the parallels.
“When the World Cup starts, people think that way (comparing with 1992 side). But we’re not thinking like that,” he said.
“Our focus is the next match. We are very confident and hopefully we’ll do well,” Sarfraz added.
With the win over the Kiwis, Pakistan are now just one point behind hosts England who currently occupy the fourth and final semi-final spot. The Men in Green will next face Afghanistan in another must-win clash on Saturday before taking on Bangladesh in their final league match on July 5.
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.