Dubai: It was a must-win contest for Pakistan to keep their World Cup hopes alive and once again they roared into contention when the chips were down.
The low-scoring contest witnessed many twists and turns, swinging from one end to the other. So what is the real turning point? It was the catch Tom Latham dropped off Babar Azam, bowled by Mitchell Santner, when the stylish batsman was on 38 in the 22nd over.
I am not trying to pillory Latham, who is not having his best of the World Cups so far as his highest is 13 not out against Afghanistan, but these sharp chances, even half chances, will have to be taken in a high-pressure contest, where there is no room for slip-ups.
Santner was breathing fire, making the most of the footmarks that were created by the pacers on a pitch that was already providing plenty of assistance to spinners and pacers. So a new batsman would need more time to settle down and might be vulnerable early on in the innings, which the New Zealand bowlers could have used it to their advantage.
At 91 for two, it was a perfect opportunity that went abbegging. If class players like Azam get a reprieve, they will make you pay dearly for the lapse, anad that’s exactly what happened as he forged a match-winning partnership with another class-act Haris Sohail to guide Pakistan past a stiff target and keep their World Cup hopes alive.
With Pakistan’s amazing winning run in 1992 being in focus now, if it was Wasim Akram who tormented the Kiwis in that game with a four-wicket haul, left-arm pacers Shaheen Shah Afridi and Mohammad Amir run riot to reduce New Zealand to 46 for four at Birmingham.
So when one thought the game will be a one-sided contest James Neesham and Colin de Grandhomme had other ideas as they forged a 132-run partnership for the sixth wicket to give New Zealand a chance to win. They both seemed to have developed a liking for the Edgbaston wicket as it was here they scored against South Africa, in the company of Kane Williamson, to pull off an incredible win.
Neesham and de Grandhomme curtailed their attacking instincts to take the Kiwis to a fighting total, it was more of a commonsense approach and they once again highlighted how one partnership is important to build an innings, even under testing conditions. Their knock did more damage to New Zealand than good as the Pakistan batsmen adopted the same strategy to score runs, which the coach Mickey Arthur said during the innings break.
New Zealand may be one win away from booking a place in the last four, but they have huge gap to fill to keep their fragile ship afloat. Their batting look thin when Williamson and Ross Taylor were dismissed early.
With Pakistan once again showing their tenacity, write them off at your own peril!