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June 27, 2019

Babar hits ton as Pakistan topple NZ to stay alive


June 27, 2019

BIRMINGHAM: Pakistan’s ‘92-like resurgence continued here at a packed Edgbaston on Wednesday when they floored table-toppers New Zealand by six wickets to stay in the hunt for a place in World Cup semi-finals.

After young pacer Shaheen Shah Afridi’s stunning spell restricted New Zealand to 237-6 despite a 132-run stand between Jimmy Neesham (97) and Colin de Grandhomme (64), Babar Azam hit a superb 101 from 127 balls to shepherd Pakistan to their second consecutive win in the contest. Haris Sohail scored his second fifty in a row to make sure that Pakistan won’t fumble in the run-chase. Pakistan reached the victory target in 49.1 overs.

With the win, Pakistan have continued to rewrite the script of their victorious 1992 World Cup campaign when they came from jaws of an early exit to trounce previously unbeaten New Zealand by seven wickets in a group match in Christchurch to qualify for the semis.

This time, however, they have to win their next two matches – against Afghanistan and Bangladesh – and then hope the results of a few other World Cup games go their way for them to reach the last four.

But for the moment, they must be basking in the glory of their second emphatic win inside four days. Till last weekend, their World Cup hopes were hanging by a thread. But wins against South Africa and New Zealand have now turned them into real contenders for a semi-final spot.

The man who put them on victory path was Shaheen. The left-armer took the life out of New Zealand’s innings with a stunning spell of fast bowling. He scalped the trio of Colin Munro, Ross Taylor and Tom Latham in quick succession to leave New Zealand in a mess from which even their in-form skipper Kane Williamson couldn’t take them out.

Pakistan’s run-chase had some anxious moments with openers Fakhar Zaman and Imam-ul-Haq falling cheaply. Mohammad Hafeez was also unable to convert his 50-ball 32 into a big knock.

But Babar Azam finally scored the big ton his fans had been waiting for. Having had outings of 22,63,30,48 and 69 in this tournament, Babar had been looking in sublime form but his failure to finish the job for Pakistan was a talking point.

Not anymore. The 24-year-old hit his 10th ODI hundred and the first in the World Cup just when Pakistan needed him the most. He hit 11 majestic boundaries in his memorable knock.

Haris, too, made an invaluable contribution. After his match-winning 89 against South Africa, the left-hander was once again in fluent form as he hit 68 from 76 balls (5 four and 2 sixes) to play an equally important role in a match-winning stand of 126 for the fourth wicket.

Earlier, the Black Caps targeted Mohammad Amir despite the fact that the in-form left-armer scalped seasoned opener Martin Guptill off his very first delivery. Since his 3-26 in a seven-wicket defeat against West Indies, Amir had been the star-performer of Pakistan roller-coaster World Cup campaign. It’s primarily because he has regained his ability to swing the ball. But perhaps also because the opposition had been giving him due respect.

But New Zealand took a different approach. Instead of playing out Amir’s overs they opted to attack him. Nine of New Zealand’s 18 fours in the innings came off Amir’s overs. The pacer’s 1-67 from 10 overs are his worst figures in the tournament so far.

Perhaps, they had no other option. With Shaheen in full flow from the other end, the Kiwis had to fetch runs off Amir. The fact that Shaheen’s best day of the tournament came when Amir was having his worst kept Pakistan on top in a match they couldn’t afford to lose.

Amir gave Pakistan an early breakthrough off his very first ball as he hurled it across off stump and the out-of-sort Guptill played it onto his stumps. Mohammad Hafeez opened the bowling from the other end, bowling tightly to keep the New Zealanders on the defensive. But it was the introduction of Shaheen that derailed the New Zealand innings.

Making full use of overcast conditions and a damp wicket, Shaheen bowled at a nagging line to take three wickets within a span of 20 balls. He extracted some extra bounce to scalp Colin Munro in the 7th over. Munro’s casual swipe resulted in an edge to the slips where Haris took a comfortable catch.

This brought together New Zealand’s most reliable duo – Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor. The two had rescued New Zealand on several occasions and have put on 573 runs in this contest together. But Sarfraz took an excellent diving catch off Shaheen to dismiss Taylor cheaply. Tom Latham also fell in the same manner to Shaheen and New Zealand were gasping for air at 46-4. Shaheen’s first spell’s figures read 7-3-11-3. He finished with 3-28, the most economical figures by a Pakistani bowler in five World Cups.

Williamson, one of the top-notch batters at the World Cup, began rebuilding the innings with James Neesham but just when things were beginning to look better for them, Shadab Khan bowled an excellent length ball to dismiss the skipper.

New Zealand were now 83-5 in 26.2 overs and Pakistan looked set for a much-needed win. But just when the chips were down, Neesham together with de Grandhomme began a rescue mission that took New Zealand out of stormy waters.

A pinch-hitter, Neesham took his time to settle down. De Grandhomme also played with responsibility. The duo took calculated risks on a gripping wicket where the duo of Shadab and Hafeez were posing the batters plenty of problems. It was only the last nine overs that the batters went for runs and New Zealand finally managed to post 237-6, which wasn’t a bad total on a surface where the ball wasn’t coming on to the bat. New Zealand must have been hoping for 250 but de Grandhomme was ran out in the 48thover while trying to a risky double. His 64 from 71 balls was de Grandhomme’s second consecutive fifty.

Neesham was the chief reason why New Zealand managed to make a match out of despite losing their top 5 for 83. He hit five fours and three sixes in his 112-ball 97, adding 47 runs from 35 balls in the death overs.

For a change Pakistan didn’t drop any catches but their fielding could have been better. They allowed New Zealand to take 16 twos in the innings. Earlier the toss was delayed because of a wet outfield. Williamson won the toss and surprisingly opted to bat on a soft wicket. Both teams opted to field unchanged elevens.

New Zealand won toss

New Zealand

M Guptill b Amir 5

C Munro c Sohail b Shaheen 12

*K Williamson c Sarfraz b Shadab 41

R Taylor c Sarfraz b Shaheen 3

†T Latham c Sarfraz b Shaheen 1

J Neesham not out 97

C de Grandhomme run out 64

M Santner not out 5

Extras (b2, lb3, w4) 9

Total (6 wickets, 50 overs) 237

Did not bat: M Henry, L Ferguson, T Boult

Fall: 1-5, 2-24, 3-38, 4-46, 5-83, 6-215

Bowling: Hafeez 7-0-22-0; Amir 10-0-67-1, Shaheen 10-3-28-3, Imad 3-0-17-0, Shadab 10-0-43-1, Wahab 10-0-55-0


Imam-ul-Haq c Guptill b Ferguson 19

Fakhar Zaman c Guptill b Boult 9

Babar Azam not out 101

Mohammad Hafeez c Ferguson b Williamson 32

Haris Sohail run out 68

*†Sarfraz Ahmed not out 5

Extras (w 7) 7

Total (4 wickets, 49.1 overs) 241

Did not bat: Imad Wasim, Wahab Riaz, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Amir, Shaheen Shah Afridi

Fall: 1-19, 2-44, 3-110, 4-236

Bowling: Boult 10-0-48-1; Henry 7-0-25-0; Ferguson 8.1-0-50-1; de Grandhomme 2-0-12-0; Santner 10-0-38-0; Neesham 3-0-20-0; Williamson 8-0-39-1; Munro 1-0-9-0

Result: Pakistan won by 6 wickets

Man of the Match: Babar Azam (Pakistan)

Umpires: Paul Reiffel and Bruce Oxenford (Australia). TV Umpire: Paul Wilson (Australia). Match Referee: Richie Richardson (West Indies)