Just like Pakistan, Haris Sohail has been reborn at the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2019.
Haris was a casualty of his side’s opening defeat to West Indies, left out of the side for the subsequent four games.
But the left-hander, deployed at number three in March’s series against Australia, has been recast as a fluent number five and spearheaded successive victories over South Africa and New Zealand.
“The way I was batting in the Australia series, I was in good form even then,” said Haris.
“I have a slightly different role for the World Cup, I’m batting at five, but wherever you bat the basics should be simple and based on the requirement of the situation.
“Whenever I’ve played before, I’ve never been out of the team because of my performances. I had a bad surgery and it was because of that I was struggling.
“Of course I felt a little bad when I was dropped, but I was thinking only about the team – it was for the betterment of the team.
“When we play for Pakistan, we have one aim: what is best for Pakistan. As such I haven’t changed anything, I’m playing according to the situation and thankfully succeeding.”
Sarfaraz Ahmed’s side, drawing eerie parallels with Imran Khan’s Cornered Tigers of 1992, will climb into the top four if they beat bottom side Afghanistan at Headingley on Saturday.
Haris’s vital 89 to down the Proteas was the best World Cup contribution from a Pakistani middle-order man since Javed Miandad’s identical score against Zimbabwe at the 1992 World Cup.
The 30-year-old also batted in an unexpectedly aggressive manner at Lord’s, his strike-rate against soaring to 150 – far dwarfing his career rate of 85.
The Punjab product can expect to face spin almost exclusively in the middle overs against Afghanistan and it’s clear Mickey Arthur has his side studying mystery man Mujeeb Ur Rahman.
“We have kept it very simple. We are taking the World Cup match-by-match,” said Haris.
“They have quality spinners and we have seen a lot of videos to try and work out their variations.
“We lost to Afghanistan in a warm-up – they played very good cricket that day. We hope to play better cricket and win.
“Every match has a different pressure and at a World Cup, there is always pressure. Hopefully we will see a good match against Afghanistan.”
The memories of the 2015 World Cup final defeat will still be fresh for New Zealand as they prepare to lock horns with Australia at the iconic Lord’s cricket ground on Saturday.
The two Trans-Tasman rivals are separated by just the one point after playing seven games apiece with leaders Australia the only side to have qualified for the 2019 ICC World Cup semi-final so far.
The Kiwis, meanwhile, will be able to confirm their place as well in the last four should they emerge victorious against at Lord’s on Saturday.
AUSSIES IN ROARING FORM
It is no wonder Australia have done so well in the tournament with the defending champions firing on all fronts so far. The two leading run-scorers in the tournament – David Warner (500) and Aaron Finch (496) – are Aussies and so is the leading wicket-taker Mitchell Starc who has claimed 19 scalps.
A loss against India has been the only aberration in Australia’s magnificent campaign and they come into Saturday’s clash on the back of a comprehensive victory over arch-rivals and tournament favourites England at the same venue.
That ‘favourites’ tag is starting to shift towards the Aussies now and they have peaked at just the right time to make a strong claim for a sixth World Cup crown.
With 15 wins in their last 16 ODIs, it is hard to see the Australia juggernaut stopping anytime soon and they will not want to let up on the intensity as the business end of the tournament approaches.
KIWIS LOOK TO BOUNCE BACK
Like Australia, the Kiwis have also lost just the one match in the tournament so far and it came in their latest encounter against Pakistan at Edgbaston. With their campaign no longer an unbeaten one, Kane Williamson and his men will want to ensure that the Pakistan defeat is just a small blot on what has otherwise been an impressive campaign.
However, they are not out of the woods just yet and the potential of their campaign going to bust still exists. They still need one more win to ensure a last four spot and that will have to come either against Australia on Saturday or against hosts England in their last league fixture.
They have remarkably named the same playing XI in all seven games so far but they might need a rethink on a couple of spots, particularly that of opener Colin Munro who has been woefully out of form. The Black Caps will also be considering whether to introduce Ish Sodhi into the playing XI after their lack of a second spinner hurt them considerably against Pakistan.
PAST RECORD SKEWED IN AUSTRALIA’S FAVOUR
The 2015 World Cup final defeat is not the only one New Zealand have suffered at the hands of the Aussies in the tournament’s history. They have ended up on the losing side in seven of the 10 times they have clashed in the World Cup so far with their sole victory coming in the 1999 edition in England.
In fact, of the 20 ODIs played between the two sides on neutral venues, Australia have come out on top on as many as 19 occasions.
Australia: Aaron Finch (c), David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith, Marcus Stoinis, Glenn Maxwell, Alex Carey (wk), Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Starc, Jason Behrendorff.
New Zealand: Martin Guptill, Colin Munro, Kane Williamson (c), Ross Taylor, Tom Latham, Colin de Grandhomme, James Neesham, Mitchell Santner, Trent Boult, Matt Henry, Lockie Ferguson.
Pakistan seemed down and out after the heavy defeat to India in the 2019 World Cup. The knives were out after the defeat to India with many experts questioning the team combination, Sarfraz Ahmed’s captaincy and the entire cricketing structure in the country.
But once an opening was provided by Sri Lanka’s shock win over favourites England, Pakistan were a different team. The indifferent Proteas were swatted away by 49 runs before before the men in green came up with their performance of the tournament to register a six-wicket win over against the most consistent side of of the World Cup – alongside India – in New Zealand.
The Kiwis were tied down on a raging turner in Birmingham and thus, Pakistan’s incredible turnaround – exactly like their 1992 World Cup winning campaign – continued. Next up for them is Afghanistan in Leeds on Saturday.
BABAR AND SOHAIL FACTOR
The two names common in Pakistan’s wins over the Proteas and Kiwis are Babar Azam and Haris Sohail.
Sohail’s late selection in place of the out of form Shoaib Malik was a belated but sensible move. The left-handed batsman has provided 360 degree batting ability and a calm head chiseled over a decade in domestic cricket.
Two fifties from Sohail formed the backbone of Pakistan’s imposing batting effort, especially against the Kiwis where left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner was turning the ball square from the rough.
Babar, on the other hand, has been in imperious form. With two fifties and an unbeaten ton against the Kiwis, the young middle order batsman has established himself as the best young batsman in the game.
Babar has become the second fastest to 3000 ODI runs and the rate at which he is going, the 24-year-old looks set to break many more.
The Afghanistan match is a potential banana peel for Pakistan. Captain Gulbadin Naib has already expressed his desire to at least ruin the campaigns of other teams now that they are out of the tournament. And Pakistan should be wary.
Afghanistan won the warm-up clash between the two teams at the start of the tournament and even in the Asia Cup in the UAE last year, Pakistan had to fight tooth and nail to defeat Afghanistan.
The pitch at Leeds offered enough encouragement to spinners in a low-scoring match between Sri Lanka and England, which means the likes of Rashid Khan, Mohammad Nabi and Mujeeb Ur Rahman will be a serious threat, as they were on a slow pitch against India in Southampton.
Pakistan: Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Babar Azam, Mohammad Hafeez, Haris Sohail, Sarfaraz Ahmed (c and wk), Imad Wasim, Wahab Riaz, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Amir, Shaheen Afridi
Afghanistan: Gulbadin Naib (c), Rahmat Shah, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Asghar Afghan, Mohammad Nabi, Samiullah Shinwari, Ikram Alikhil (wk), Najibullah Zadran, Rashid Khan, Dawlat Zadran, Mujeeb Ur Rahman