Pakistan hero Babar Azam admitted that not winning a one-day international for his country had been preying on his mind.
Babar masterminded a crucial six-wicket World Cup win over New Zealand at Edgbaston with his 10th ODI hundred, his unbeaten 101 seeing Pakistan home with five balls to spare.
The win moves Pakistan to within one point of fourth-placed England in the race for a semi-final spot and piles the pressure on Eoin Morgan’s men ahead of their Edgbaston clash against India on Sunday.
Pakistan were 110 for three in pursuit of their victory target of 238 but Babar, who has been criticised in the past for failing to get his side across the line, and Haris Sohail shared a decisive fourth-wicket partnership of 126 in 24 overs.
“It was in my mind that I’m not finishing these matches,” said Babar, 24, who during his 68th ODI innings became the second-fastest player to reach 3,000 runs – with only South Africa’s Hashim Amla getting there quicker.
“When me and Haris were batting we had a plan to carry on the innings, and we have done that. It was a difficult pitch to bat on as it was spinning a lot.
“(Mohammad) Hafeez and I had a plan before to see off the spinners’ overs and attack the fast bowlers.”
Pakistan had collected only three points from their opening five games, with the only win in that sequence coming against England.
But back-to-back wins over South Africa and New Zealand have provided Pakistan with momentum ahead of closing games against Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
Curiously, their run of results and record after seven games is identical to the Pakistan side that Imran Khan led to World Cup glory in 1992.
“Everybody contributed a lot and we are very focused on this,” said Babar.
“We are confident of taking it match by match, and hopefully we will qualify.”
New Zealand need to win one of their final two games to make a fourth successive World Cup semi-final appearance.
Jimmy Neesham made a career-best 97 not out in New Zealand’s 237 for six and said confidence would not be dented by a first defeat in the competition.
“I think you’d be pretty naive to expect to go through the whole tournament unbeaten,” Neesham said.
“There’s too many quality teams going around to expect to win every game. We prepared for a tournament where we’d probably lose one or two games.
“But for us, it’s all about making it to the semi-finals, and you’re only two good games away from lifting the trophy.”
New Zealand’s next outing is against great rivals Australia at Lord’s on Saturday before a Durham finale with England.
Neesham added: “For us, nothing changes. The mood in the dressing room is good and we’ll prepare for the next game the same way we’ve prepared for the last six.
“We’re not the type of team that takes losses really hard. We’ll talk about how that game went, and then we’ll pretty much park it and hit our scouting pretty fresh.”
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Joe Root expects emotions to run high against India on Sunday, in a game England will be treating like a World Cup quarter-final.
A heavy defeat by Australia at Lord’s was England’s third setback of the tournament and leaves their hopes of reaching the knockout stage precariously balanced.
Winning their last two group games would do the trick, but seeing off both India and New Zealand would require a sharp improvement from a side who have mislaid the spark which saw them begin the competition as world number ones and red-hot favourites.
The pressure is rising sharply around the group – from pundits deconstructing their defeats, to rival nations eager to edge them in the standings and, surely, from within their own dressing room too.
Moreover, when they walk out at Edgbaston this weekend there is every chance the majority of the crowd, gleaned in large part from Birmingham’s large British Asian community, will be roaring on their opponents.
“I personally think we have to be very calm about how we approach the next couple of games because the games themselves might get quite emotional, especially with the atmosphere at Edgbaston,” said Root.
“I strongly believe we are more than capable of qualifying for the semi-finals – when that happens it doesn’t really matter how you get there, that’s when the tournament really starts to kick in.
“It is almost like we see these two games as quarter-finals, which in a way should serve us really well.
“You still have to win big games at some stage in the tournament if you are going to go on and win it. Ours have just come a bit sooner than expected.
“It would be silly to sit and mope about that and get all caught up in it – we have two opportunities now to go and qualify. If we embrace the challenge that is in front of us and play anywhere near our potential we are more than capable of getting in the semis.”
Root can at least approach the game feeling fully fit for the challenges ahead, a luxury not all of his team-mates can claim.
Jason Roy’s availability is the most clear and present issue and a final decision could go all the way to the wire.
The explosive opener tore a hamstring against the West Indies and has been sorely missed over the past three games, with his stand-in James Vince emphatically failing to impress.
Roy is said to be making “good progress” by the England and Wales cricket Board, but he will take part in both practice days before any verdict is reached.
Jofra Archer, England’s leading wicket-taker with 16, is still struggling with tightness in his left side and is also a concern. He passed a morning fitness test to face Australia but looked short of his best and the ECB said he would “continue to be assessed”.
The final area of concern is Adil Rashid’s right shoulder, a problem he has been managing throughout the tournament.
The leg-spinner attended the opening of a new urban cricket centre at Leyton cricket Hub on Wednesday, as part of the governing body’s South Asian Action Plan, and allayed concerns.
“It is getting better every day. I’m seeing the physio every other day getting a massage done or a strength session,” he said.
“There is no pain bowling because the injections are still in there.”
As for the prospect of a hostile crowd – at the same ground where his close friend Moeen Ali was memorably booed during an India game in 2014 – Rashid was pragmatic.
“People will enjoy themselves, have some fun and banter. We will not be fazed by that,” he said.
“It is disappointing sometimes, but it happened. The crowd get involved but it does not bother us. We played India last summer at Edgbaston and we enjoyed it and did our job.”
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India’s bowling coach Bharat Arun said his team are not worried about the colour of their kits ahead of their Cricket World Cup match against the West Indies at Old Trafford on Thursday.
After the West Indies game India play England at Edgbaston on Sunday, a match where they are likely to wear orange away shirts rather than their traditional blue.
It’s understood the orange choice of colour has angered followers in India, and although Arun tried to play the row down he did stress his team ‘bleed blue.’
“We bleed blue, right. Blue is going to be predominantly the colour and that’s it,” Arun said.