Riding on the back of a classy Babar Azam century, Pakistan put in a terrific performance to beat New Zealand by six wickets and remain in contention for a semi-final spot in the ongoing World Cup 2019.
An impressive bowling performance restricted New Zealand to a total of 237-6 and the duo of Babar Azam and Haris Sohail came up with terrific knocks to thwart a strong Kiwi bowling effort that laid the path for a comfortable win for Pakistan.
With them having a feel of the conditions, Pakistan would have been fully aware that this chase of 238 was never going to be a cakewalk. Their openers Fakhar Zaman and Imam Ul Haq tried to counter New Zealand's new ball bowlers by being positive. However, it became a matter of one-too-many shots as a leading edge off Trent Boult's bowling ended Fakhar Zaman's knock in just the third over.
Lockie Ferguson, one of the best bowlers in the ongoing World Cup, bagged the wicket of Imam Ul Haq with a snorter. With Pakistan is a slight spot of bother, the situation needed Babar Azam and Mohammad Hafeez to respect the conditions and also New Zealand's quality bowling attack.
Yet, Hafeez, for the third time in the World Cup threw away his wicket to a part-timer as he slogged Kane Williamson to only pick out the fielder at deep-midwicket with perfection.
Suddenly, the pitch started to spit some venom as Mitchell Santner and Williamson started to extract vicious turn regular intervals. Haris Sohail and Azam got through this intense period with a combination of luck and calculated risks to disturb the line and length of the Kiwi spinners.
Once they settled, both Sohail and Azam started to pull out classy shots on a regular basis. Soon, Sohail reached his half-century and while his partner Azam notched up a terrific century to bring Pakistan to the verge of a memorable win.
Sohail's stay though was cut short owing to some brilliant from Martin Guptill, who charged in from point and took off the bails with a dive to run-out the southpaw. However, it was all a little late as Pakistan skipper Sarfaraz Ahmed essayed a crunching square drive to seal the win in the end.
Earlier in the day, New Zealand captain Kane Williamson won the toss and chose to bat first.
That decision didn't really have a great start as Mohammad Amir sent back Martin Guptill off his very first delivery. New Zealand's situation only got worse with Shaheen Shah Afridi's cracking opening spell reducing them to 46-4. Kane Williamson's presence still provided some calm around the storm with a 37-run stand with Colin de Grandhomme until Shadab Khan came up with a ripper to dismiss the Black Caps' skipper.
With Pakistan on the front foot, Colin de Grandhomme and James Neesham played knocks that would scarcely be associated with them to dig the Kiwis out of a massive hole. Amidst disciplined bowling, the big-hitting duo curbed their natural instincts and decided to bide their time. Whenever they needed some quick runs, expensive overs from Shadab or Amir helped to relieve some pressure.
Grandhomme's important 71-ball 64 came to an end in the 48th over as a risky attempt to run two resulted in a run-out. This, however, didn't deter Neesham as he opened up in the last few overs and a six off the last ball took him to 97* that ultimately led New Zealand to a very competitive 237-6 on a turning track.
However, in the end, the total did not suffice as Pakistan registered a six-wicket win as Azam's century overshadowed Neesham's 97*.
Babar Azam's masterful 101 off 127 balls helped him enter the 'Most Runs' table as the Pakistan star batsman occupied 6th spot with a total of 333 runs from six matches at a commendable average of 66.60.
Earlier, Kiwi captain Kane Williamson's 41-run knock helped him stabilise his No. 5 spot in the table and also saw him become the fifth batsman to cross the 400-run landmark in this World Cup.
There weren't any notable changes in the 'Most Wickets' table as both Mohammad Amir and Lockie Ferguson only picked up one wicket each in this match and retained their third and fourth spot respectively.
Also read – Highest partnerships by wicket in world cupPublished 27 Jun 2019, 01:01 IST