Dubai: What a World Cup this has been for Pakistan. They came back from oblivion to win the semi-final after they were almost eliminated from the tournament having lost to India and Zimbabwe. And for Pakistan to be successful, skipper Babar Azam and speed ace Shaheen Shah Afridi are key, and they both came good in the seven-wicket win over New Zealand in the first semi-final in Sydney on Wednesday and book a place in the final in Melbourne on Sunday.
“He (Shaheen) set the tone. After the injury, day by day he’s improving because you see him playing for the team and performing after the injury,” said Babar at the post-match press conference. “He had a little bit of time (to recover). He has really been using our experience and now everyone knows he’s the best bowler in Pakistan and in the world, so we know he’s bowling and he’s doing fine out there,” he added.
The 22-year-old finished with 2/24 from his allotment, moving to ten wickets for the tournament, joining Shadab Khan as the most prolific in Pakistan’s campaign in Australia.
Having failed in earlier matches, Pakistan’s star openers Azam and Mohammed Rizwan came alive with their scintillating batting at a time when it mattered the most. They set aside Pakistan opening worries with a century stand, scoring 53, 57 respectively, the power-play producing 54 runs set up the chase of a target of 153 in 20 overs.
While Pakistan are awaiting their opponents, between India and England, it could be repeat of 1992 World Cup if Pakistan play England in the final. Pakistan won the title at the MCG in 1992, after beating NZ in semi-finals 30 years ago.
Pakistan’s new batting sensation young Mohammed Haris nailed the win with another brilliant knock of 30 in 26 balls. Inclusion of Haris, as a replacement to Fakhar Zaman in the squad, has given more strength to Pakistan batting.
But it was a disciplined bowling show, led by left-arm pacer Afridi, who fired the first salvo with a wicket in the first over, helped restrict New Zealand to 152, despite Kane Williamson and Daryl Mitchell putting on a partnership to resurrect the innings. Afridi was well supported by Haris Rauf, Mohammed Wasim, Naseem Shah, Shaddab Khan and Mohammad Nawaz.
Rizwan, who was adjudged player of the match, said: “Obviously, me and Babar decided to go after the new ball and the pitch was difficult. When we finished power play, the discussion was one of the guys to go deep. The guys have worked hard and we have always believed in ourselves.”
Take away from the match is that Pakistan squad’s body language was very positive and are looking extremely determined to win the match. They hardly put a foot wrong as even their fielding was top class while New Zealand dropped two crucial catches as well.
Matthew Hayden, Pakistan mentor, said: “Everyone will talk about Babar and Rizwan, but that bowling attack did an unbelievable job. Sky is the limit and both of these guys have done it for Pakistan for a number of years and I also want to mention Haris as well. He faces every fast bowler in the nets and smashes them. On this surface, the bowlers had to adapt and we got Shaheen back up and running. Once it starts to reverse-swing, he’s hard to handle. Haris can bowl 150kph. I’d like to face India, pretty much because of the spectacle. It’s unthinkable.”
New Zealand skipper Williamson, who now has the misfortune of missing two World Cups after finishing runners-up in 50-over World Cup in 2019, said: “At the halfway mark we thought we had a competitive total, but disappointing not to make Pakistan work harder. It’s a tough pill to swallow. Pakistan deserved to win.”