Akram, who is one of the most legendary bowlers ever produced by Pakistan, believes the Men in Green will be among one of the contenders for the crown in England but has rated India’s chances as brighter.
“Among the teams that are involved in the cricket World Cup, Pakistan have always been an outfit that people loved to watch and follow. You can never write them off. India look firm favourites for me,” the Pakistan icon wrote in his column for the Times of India.
“New Zealand are the dark horses, but Pakistan are right up there,” he added.
Having captured the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy in England against all odds, Pakistan will certainly fancy their chances of repeating that feat at the same venue. Led by Sarfraz Ahmed, the team is an exciting mix of younger and more experienced players and have shown incredible consistency in the T20 format where they are the No1 ranked team by some distance.
Akram has credited the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and Pakistan Super League (PSL) for the change in the team’s fortunes in the limited-overs formats.
“I’ll give credit to the Pakistan Super League and our board for the resurgence of Pakistan cricket. We have a young side, apart from a Mohammad Hafeez and a Shoaib Malik, everyone is in their mid 20s. They are young, as well as experienced. The fielding also has improved,” he wrote.
Chasing their second title, Pakistan will open their 2019 World Cup campaign against two-time champions West Indies at Trent Bridge on May 31.
In front of a packed house at Eden Park, the visitors chased down New Zealand’s total of 158-8 with seven balls to spare to restore parity in the three-match series at 1-1.
At the end of what was India’s first T20 win on New Zealand soil, we take a look at the key talking points from the clash.
KRUNAL AND KHALEEL REDEEM THEMSELVES
After conceding 85 runs in eight overs between them in the first T20, there were question marks over Krunal Pandya and Khaleel Ahmed’s spots in the team. In the end, stand-in skipper Rohit Sharma persisted with the duo at Auckland and his faith was repaid manifolds with the two ending up being the chief architects of India’s victory.
Krunal was entrusted to bowl in the powerplay and the left-arm spinner struck twice in the sixth over to send back the dangerous Colin Munro and Daryl Mitchell. In his next over, Pandya landed the big fish in the form of Kane Williamson by trapping the Kiwi skipper plumb in front of the wickets.
While Krunal broke the back of New Zealand’s batting, it was Khaleel who shone at the death with the scalps of Mitchell Santner and Tim Southee. The left-arm pacer was in his elements this time, castling the stumps of both the tail-enders to cap off a fine spell.
Together, the duo only conceded 55 runs from their eight overs, a major improvement on the Wellington showing.
MITCHELL DISMISSAL RAISES DRS CONTROVERSY
The second T20 was not without controversy with Krunal’s dismissal of Mitchell raising plenty of eyebrows. Having just dismissed Munro three deliveries earlier, Pandya struck the pads of Mitchell and immediately went up in appeal.
The on-field umpire raised the dreaded finger but Mitchell wasted no time in calling for a DRS review. The Kiwi batsman was confident that he had got an inside-edge before being struck on the pads and Hotspot showed a clear mark on Mitchell’s bat.
However, the other replay using Snicko did no show any spike when the ball passed the bat, leading the third-umpire to go with the on-field decision.
As Williamson stood in disbelief at the other end, an exasperated Mitchell walked up to Rohit to protest the decision but the India skipper chose not to withdraw the appeal. In the end, Mitchell had no option but to make the long walk back to the pavilion with the frailties of the DRS technology once again exposed.
CAPTAIN ROHIT OVERTAKES GUPTILL
Skipper Rohit Sharma ensured India did not lose their way in the pursuit of a modest target. The India opening batsman struck a his 16th T20I half-century, taking only 28 deliveries to get to the mark before his innings was brought to an end by Ish Sodhi.
In the process of getting to his fifty, Rohit overtook Martin Guptill to become the highest run-scorer in T20I cricket. The right-hander now has 2,228 runs from 84 innings to his name compared to Guptill who has 2,272 runs from 10 fewer innings.
By the time Rohit was dismissed, India had already racked up 79 runs in nine overs and it was no surprise then that the visitors coasted to victory with Shikhar Dhawan and Rishabh Pant chipping in with important contributions.
PANT AND DHONI FINISH IT OFF IN STYLE
The first T20 had been a disappointing one for most of India’s batsmen including Rishabh Pant who scored just four runs. On Friday, with veteran MS Dhoni watching from the other end, the youngster showed glimpses of his finishing prowess with a fine unbeaten 28-ball 40 to help India cross the finish line.
With India’s openers having set things up nicely, Pant started in explosive fashion with some trademark hits to the fence. While his hitting powers have never been in doubt, the young man also showed that he can keep a calm head when it comes to finishing off a run chase.
Once Vijay Shankar was dismissed and Dhoni walked into bat, Pant showed a much more mature head by milking singles and doubles to keep the runs ticking nicely.
It was almost as if the youngster was trying to prove that he can take over the mantle from Dhoni. With still more than three months to go for the World Cup in England, Pant’s innings will definitely give the Indian selectors something to think about.
England‘s hopes of averting a 3-0 whitewash in the West Indies were hit when Ben Stokes emerged as a doubt for the third Test against the West Indies, with Ben Foakes and Chris Woakes also managing injuries.
If the worst happened and all three were ruled out of the game in St Lucia, which begins on Saturday, England would have just 12 fit players to choose from.
Stokes was present at training on Thursday, England’s first full session since their three-day defeat in Antigua, but did not take part due to bruising on his right heel.
Foakes, who was hit on the hand by a Shannon Gabriel delivery last week and was unable to keep wicket in the second innings, was involved but has yet to be given the green light by medical staff and Woakes is highly unlikely to make it as he manages a longstanding knee complaint.
A morning fitness session on the beach as we look to bounce back in Saint Lucia. 🏝🏃♂️ pic.twitter.com/WybjQVI7sN— England Cricket (@englandcricket) February 6, 2019
England were keen not to make any early assessments, with another full day of preparation work ahead, but Stokes’ ability to balance the side as a top-five batsman and reliable seam bowler makes any question mark overs his participation serious.
He would be considered as a specialist batsman even if he was unavailable to fulfil his duties with the ball, but England will give themselves more time to make a judgement.
Restructuring the side, or just the batting order, remain possible but with Adil Rashid having flown home to be with his pregnant wife options are limited.
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