Saturday, 27 November 2021

Pakistan beat New Zealand, keeps hopes alive


BIRMINGHAM: Pakistan kept their hopes of a World Cup semi-final place alive as they moved to within a point of England with a six-wicket victory over New Zealand. Babar Azam’s century saw Pakistan home in front of a partisan crowd at Edgbaston after Shaheen Shah Afridi had ripped through New Zealand’s top order.

Jimmy Neesham’s unbeaten 97 had given New Zealand a chance on a slow pitch. But Pakistan’s win with five balls to spare leaves hosts and pre-tournament favourites England in more danger.

Babar also achieved another milestone as he completed second fastest 3000 one-day international runs in the match. The honour of the fastest 3000 runs remained with South Africa’s Hashim Amla who achieved the feat in 57 innings while it took Babar 68 innings to reach the mark, one less than West Indies great Vivian Richards.

Only wins against New Zealand and India in their final two games will be enough to guarantee England a semi-final place. Just last week the top four places looked set but qualification could now go to the wire.

New Zealand would have joined Australia in confirming a top-four finish with a win but now they too have work to do after a first defeat of the tournament.

Pakistan came into the game still hoping to emulate their 1992 victory, when they came through to lift the World Cup in Melbourne despite winning only one of their opening five group games – a miserable start they have matched this time around. Then, three wins from their final three games propelled them into the semi-finals, and a repeat this year could well do the same.

Thrashed by rivals India, crushed by West Indies and sunk by a collapse against Australia, Pakistan looked to be out of contention just days ago. But wins against Afghanistan at Headingley on Saturday and Bangladesh at Lord’s on 5 July could see them into the last four – this victory lifted their chances from 20% to 36%, according to statisticians Opta.

Despite some dangerous if inconsistent bowling from New Zealand, Pakistan were always on top chasing a modest 238 to win, batting calmly and keeping the required rate at around a run a ball throughout.

Lockie Ferguson was bowling 94mph bouncers and struck with his second ball, a brutal delivery that found the handle of Imam Ul-Haq’s bat, while left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner later had batsmen in real trouble during a brilliant spell. But despite beating the bat on numerous occasions, Santner went wicketless, and it was captain Williamson who was the partnership breaker, striking in his first over in 13 ODIs as Mohammad Hafeez holed out to deep midwicket.

That wicket could have been a trigger for a collapse but Babar and Haris Sohail – fresh from a brisk 89 against South Africa – batted near faultlessly in a match-sealing partnership of 126. Babar brought up his 10th ODI century from 124 balls – his first hundred in a successful chase – to give an already raucous crowd their biggest cheer of the day. Haris was run out in the penultimate over for 68 but captain Sarfaraz Ahmed hit the first ball of the final over for four to seal a famous win.

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