ICC CRICKET WORLD CUP 2019
Haris Sohail provided the impetus with a sparkling 59-ball 89 © Getty
Sarfaraz Ahmed saw past the deceptively green-looking Lord’s pitch to bat first, and his top-order emboldened that decision as Pakistan posted 308 for 7 in 50 overs. Babar Azam and Haris Sohail, particularly, provided vindication for their skipper, with two fine knocks after the openers set Pakistan up.
Imam Ul Haq and Fakhar Zaman started fluently – unabashedly on the front foot – to give an accurate assessment of the pitch that South Africa would’ve hoped would suit their seamers. That wasn’t the case, as both Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi would find out in the first 10 overs, where the Pakistan openers coolly collected 58 runs.
The first real shake-up to an otherwise seamlessly ambling Pakistan innings came when Fakhar Zaman mistimed a short ball from Chris Morris and was (nearly) caught very well by Imran Tahir at deep square leg. Tahir set in motion some wild celebration, until the umpires converged and opted to take the assistance of their colleague, bringing into play the much-debated soft signal in such dismissals. The South Africa players crowded the two on-field umpires, but there was not much they could do as the TV umpire didn’t deem the zoomed in replays conclusive enough to send Zaman packing.
Tahir was understandably livid, but Zaman went out of his way to offer redemption to the South African leggie, with his clumsy attempt to play a scoop. Zaman ended up in an awkward position, and the edge went straight to Hashim Amla at first slip, giving South Africa their first breakthrough. It took exceptional reflexes from Tahir, but one wicket brought another – Imam’s – and a chance for South Africa to claw their way back into a game that was swiftly slipping away from them. South Africa put the squeeze on the run-flow through 11 to 30 overs, conceding just 85 runs in the 20 overs (39 in the first 10, 46 in the next).
But the first half of this game had another swing of pendulum in it. Mohammad Hafeez’s exit for a 33-ball 20 to Aiden Markram in the 30th over brought Haris Sohail to the crease, who took the opportunity to ensure there will be no more shuffling around from the team management for the crucial No.5 position.
Even on a day when Kagiso Rabada wasn’t being as effective as du Plessis would’ve liked, the South Africa captain brought back his bowling spearhead right at the fall of Hafeez’s wicket, to try and dig the knife deeper into Pakistan’s already punctured innings. But Sohail came armed with the idea of taking on Rabada and giving Pakistan a much-needed nudge from their middling score of 143 for 3 in 30 overs. It proved to be a successful ploy as Rabada endured one of those days when he struggled even to bowl to his fields, much to the public annoyance of Quinton de Kock and Faf du Plessis behind the stumps. After one such ball – and an exchange of stares and gesticulations with his skipper and the ‘keeper – in the 34th over, Rabada dug it short – a ball that Sohail saw coming from miles away and deposited over the point fence for a six.
Sohail’s adventurism worked for Babar, who calmly went past the 50-run mark in the 36th over. While Sohail continued to whack at more than 200, Babar too chipped in with an occasional boundary or two – more of opening the face of his bat to guide the ball towards third man fence than hitting across the line with a lot of conviction like his batting partner. Sohail showed his versatility when du Plessis threw at him the Imran Tahir challenge. Tahir tried to tempt Sohail with a full, tossed up ball, but Sohail saw it coming and drove it through covers for another boundary. The pair’s partnership brought 74 runs in the 10 overs since the 30th, setting Pakistan up for a flourishing end.
A mistimed heave from Azam off Andile Phehlukwayo was perhaps an opportunity for South Africa to grab momentum back from Pakistan, but Sohail didn’t let that happen. He and Imad Wasim added the second-fastest 50-run stand of the World Cup – off 26 balls – in which the latter contributed a grand total of eight runs. Sohail took on partnership-breaker Phehlukwayo, smashing 14 out of the 16 runs that came off the 44th over. There was not much respite for Lungi Ngidi at the death, until Imad Wasim mistimed a big shot off him in the 48th over. He then proceeded to end Sohail’s brilliant knock with a slower ball in the final over, but the 59-ball 89 took Pakistan to 308.
When Sarfaraz opted to bat, Faf du Plessis reckoned it was a good toss to lose. His batsmen have a massive task on the hand, considering a defeat will end their World Cup campaign.
Brief Scores: Pakistan 308/7 in 50 overs (Haris Sohail 89, Babar Azam 69; Lungi Ngidi 3-64) vs South Africa