• Saturday, Dec 14, 2019
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Straight Bat: Dark horse rising?

  • Published at 02:31 pm June 27th, 2019
Pakistan's Babar Azam plays a shot during their World Cup match against New Zealand in Birmingham on Wednesday Reuters

A resurgent Pakistan beats New Zealand

It was one of the best things that could happen to this rather insipid World Cup, which began with the top sitting strong at the top, unwilling to move.

The rest seemed very out of focus, but as the tournament grows older, a few surprises keep popping up now and then.

England were expected to be shoo-ins for the semis, and possibly a favourite to win the Cup, but seven games in they are still struggling to hold the last qualification spot.

Pakistan’s victory against New Zealand was special, and this was New Zealand’s first defeat in the Cup. Although New Zealand’s status remains unchanged in the charts, the Cup is not just for watching winners.

It is also for such matches where a middling team like Pakistan beats a chart topper like New Zealand -- and that too, terribly convincingly. 

A NZ car crash 

That NZ reached 237 is something of a “miracle” given the team had lost four wickets after scoring just 46 runs, and five at 83.

But Grandhomme (64) and Neesham (97) had a partnership of 132 for the sixth wicket -- which was more than half of what all the others scored -- to reach that figure. 

Frankly, it seemed like the worst batting performance in this Cup. An ironic congrats to the duo is due.

Although Amir had the breakthrough and took a scalp in the second over to start the wickets rolling, the true match winner was Shaheen Afridi, who took three wickets by giving just 28 runs.

New Zealand might have lost only six wickets, but that is just one half of the story. It was outclassed. With victory as their goal, the Pakistani bowlers did not allow New Zealand to cross 250.

Pakistan, the dark horse?

Babar Azam scored a century and Haris Sohail scored 68, going out in the second last over with a century partnership that sealed the chase. But by then, runs had become just a formality. The match was won by a boundary hit that showed that Pakistan’s teething days in the Cup are over and they are back in the race. 

Its harvest now includes both England and NZ and that is why it sits strongly with the same points as Bangladesh as they jostle to go higher.

In a post-match chat, Williamson -- alternately praising and defending Pakistan -- sounded awfully unconvincing. It was the voice of a captain not used to losing in the World Cup.

But the team is almost certainly going through to the semis, with 11 points from seven matches and just Australia on top of them. India might topple them with a win, but now, it is just an internal competition at the top. NZ’s not in an uncertain space like England is.

But the teams at the bottom are the ones keeping the World Cup interesting, with far greater fan-to-team interaction and involvement.

Meanwhile a WC giant has been slayed, and talk of a 1992 repeat is in the air. It’s time for Pakistani fans to start dreaming again. 

Afsan Chowdhury is a journalist and researcher.