London: Over the years Pakistan has repeatedly announced to the world that they should never be written off. A wounded and humiliated Pakistan can be a dangerous side, and they proved that by conquering England, the top favourites and host team of the World Cup by 14 runs.
Pakistan’s show at the Trent Bridge ground Monday was another demonstration of a determined fight back from the most unpredictable team in the world. This match will go down as one among the finest comeback stories of the World Cup, a script which was beautifully written by Pakistan’s top order batsmen led by Mohammad Hafeez, skipper Sarfaraz Ahmand and bowler Wahab Riaz.
Crushed by West Indies in their last match after getting bowled out for a paltry 105 runs, they posted a total of 348 for 8 in their next match, forcing England to record the highest chase in the history of the World Cup to win the match. Pakistan never looked like a team that was playing a match after 11 consecutive losses.
England fought tooth and nail through Joe Root’s 107 runs and Jos Buttler’s 103 runs. The two centuries and their 130-runs partnership for the fifth wicket almost took them to the target.
Root fell when England needed 101 runs off 11 overs. Shadab Khan ended Root’s knock by having him caught at short third man by Hafeez. Buttler, too, fell for 103 when England needed 61 off 33 balls. Mohammad Amir had Buttler caught at short third man by Riaz. After this Riaz bowled brilliantly to end England’s stupendous chase and return with figures of 3 for 82 backed by Amir and Shadab Khan with two wickets each.
Pakistan skipper Sarfaraz Ahmad, who was even personally humiliated by a former cricketer as the most unfit captain in the World Cup, had urged all his batsmen to deliver, and they did it one by one from the start. The opening partnership of 82 between Imam ul Haq (44) and Fakhar Zaman (36) cleared all doubts from the sceptical-minded fans on whether Pakistan would once again be shot out for around 100 runs. Babar Zaman played his role brilliantly to score 63 off 66 balls.
Sarfaraz’s breezy 55 off just 44 balls showed his fitness and ability to accelerate the run rate. However, the man who won hearts was veteran Mohammad Hafeez. Showing no signs of a 38-year-old cricketer, instead drawing from his experience, he cracked an invaluable 84 off 62 balls. It was an innings with a message that he deserves more respect than what he has received from the selectors.
Speaking during the break, Hafeez revealed that ‘self-belief’ was the key to his valuable knock. “We all knew that we are capable of handling any situation, but we couldn’t do it on that day [against West Indies]. Some poor shots cost us [that match], but we were confident we will bounce back.”
Chasing a world record target needed a good start, but England opener Jason Roy went for a sweep off Shadab Khan and was given out leg before by umpire Sundaram Ravi. Roy reviewed this plum leg before verdict and wasted it, too, and walked off scoring just eight runs. Once Bairstow got caught behind off a 140km/h delivery from Wahab Riaz, the mantle of lifting England to the target fell on Joe Root and skipper Eoin Morgan. But they could add only 26 runs between themselves before Hafeez took the prize wicket of Morgan for 9. All that was then needed for Pakistan was to maintain the pressure despite a gettable run-rate of 7.83.
When Sarfaraz introduced 37-year old Shoaib Malek to back Hafeez who is an year older than him, it turned out to be a battle between experienced Pakistan versus England’s consistent batsmen Joe Root and Ben Stokes. Stokes, the hero of England’s first match win over South Africa, became a Malek victim for 13, getting caught by the allegedly ‘unfit’ wicketkeeper Sarfraz, who took his second catch off an outside edge. England was then left tottering at 118 for 4.
In the 25th over Jos Buttler ignited hope for England through two sixes off Hafeez before launching a brilliant chase with Root.