Cricket

2019 Cricket World Cup – Pakistan win thriller to keep play off hopes alive

Pakistan and New Zealand played out a thriller at Edgbaston, Birmingham – with Pakistan, thanks to a stunning, unbeaten, century from Babar Azam, claiming the win, and keeping alive their hopes of a Semi Final place.

The match was played in front of a packed Edgbaston cricket ground, with the hordes of Pakistan fans generating a superb atmosphere that only enhanced the game – which had bits of everything – superb batting, great bowling and some sensational fielding – as well as a few errors.

From New Zealand’s perspective, the loss ruins their unbeaten status – leaving India as the only team yet to suffer a loss in the group round. They still remain in a strong position, but their semi final berth remains unsecured.

But this was Pakistan at their best. Huge pressure at all stages of the game – needing the win to keep their play off fire burning bright – and showing all the prodigious talent and mental strength they have in abundance, but find it so hard to produce consistently.

New Zealand batted first, and were immediately on the back foot, as Pakistan ripped through their top order, leaving them in tatters at 83/5 with 26 overs already gone. But, as usual, the Kiwis found some middle order resolve, with Colin de Grandhomme knocking 64 off 71 balls and giving great support to James Neesham, who batted superbly on a difficult wicket to end on 97 not out and post a target of 237/6 – not a huge total, but more than respectable – and defendable – considering the trouble the Kiwis were in.

The pressure was all on Pakistan, who knew they HAD to chase down this total – in front of around 20,000 passionate fans – the vast majority waving Pakistan flags and in green and white – with the world watching also.

It was a thrilling chase. Fakhar Zaman was dismissed with just 19 on the board which brought Babar Azam to the crease. Azam is a fantastic young talent, with 5 ODI centuries to his name already at just the tender age of 24. On a very difficult wicket – more suited to a test match on day five than a ODI game – Azam showed a maturity and patience beyond his years, batting himself into rhythm and never once looking flustered with the chaos surrounding him. He lost partners Imam-ul-Haq (19) and then Mohammad Hafeez (32) – the one player supposed to be able to bat the innings through and show composure – but found a great batting ally in Haris Sohail – who – somehow – managed to survive an amazing show of bowling from Kiwi left arm spinner Mitchell Santner, who was getting ball to perform miracles off the Edgbaston pitch – before Sohail found his rhythm to find the gaps and, importantly, the boundary to keep the scoreboard ticking over very nicely.

As Azam approached his century, Sohail approached his fifty. Pakistan were ahead of the chase but still needed to get home. No Pakistan batsman outside of their openers had ever hit a World Cup century in a stunning 32 years – but Azam (above) crashed another square cut through the covers and could not contain his emotion at his achievement, with the crowd and his Pakistan teammates in raptures in the stands and on the balcony.

Sohail completed his fifty and these two seemed like they would see it through….but with just 2 runs needed from 9 balls, Sohail was spectacularly run out by Martin Guptill, racing in and diving at the stumps to dismiss Sohail by inches.

But Pakistan captain Sarfaraz Ahmed strode to the crease – and though the game went into the last over, Pakistan would not be denied – Sarfaraz crashing one to the boundary for a famous win in, arguably, the game of the tournament so far.

Comparisons are being drawn to the 1992 World Cup success of Pakistan under Imran Khan where, as this year, they lost three group games, were on the brink of elimination against….New Zealand…won it…and went on to win the trophy. Pakistan have now beaten England and New Zealand in the group games….and have ‘just’ Afghanistan and Bangladesh left to face. Whereas England face India & New Zealand, whilst the Kiwis have the Aussies and England left. That notwithstanding that Bangladesh and Sri Lanka also remain in the Semi Final equation.

It promises to be a fascinating conclusion to the 2019 World Cup group stage…and to think, it was only ten days or so ago, Pakistan were ninth in the table, with one win and all but written off. Well, in some quarters anyway…..click here!

2019 CRICKET WORLD CUP – TABLE AS AT 26/6/19

  1. Australia P7 W6 L1 T0 N/R0 Pts 12
  2. New Zealand P7 W5 L1 T0 N/R1 Pts 11
  3. India P5 W4 L0 T0 N/R1 Pts 9
  4. England P7 W4 L3 T0 N/R0 Pts 8
  5. Bangladesh P7 W3 L3 T0 N/R1 Pts 7
  6. Pakistan P7 W3 L3 T0 N/R 1 Pts 7
  7. Sri Lanka P6 W2 L2 T0 N/R2 Pts 6
  8. West Indies P6 W1 L4 T0 N/R1 Pts 3
  9. South Africa P7 W1 L5 T0 N/R1 Pts 3
  10. Afghanistan P7 W0 L7 T0 N/R0 Pts 0

TOP FOUR PROGRESS TO SEMI FINALS