Pakistan kept their World Cup alive, and they did it in the most Pakistan way possible. At times here at Lord’s they were brilliant, at others they were infuriatingly sloppy. It was not a complete performance, like the one they produced to beat England at Trent Bridge. But it was still a thriller, stuffed with enough individual quality and enough spirit to make them look like a team nobody else would want to play.
Pakistan play New Zealand at Edgbaston on Wednesday, another must-win game, and if they can reproduce the best of today’s cricket again then they will cause the group leaders some serious problems.
Take Haris Sohail. He has been frozen out for Pakistan’s last few games but he came back today and was the most important player of all. He came in with Pakistan 143 for 3 off 30 overs, looking confused and directionless. He smashed 89 off 59 balls, dragging Pakistan to 308, a far better target than they were expecting.
Or take Mohammed Amir, impossible to get away, very difficult to keep out, two for just 19 from his first seven overs before his figures were distorted by some late hitting. He got the crucial wickets of Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis, after whom South Africa had very little. He was well-supported by all of his bowling colleagues - Wahab Riaz was ruthless at the death - as well as Sarfaraz Ahmed’s aggressive imaginative captaincy.
No it was not a perfect performance from Pakistan. They stopped scoring runs in the middle overs and dropped far too many catches in the field. But they were still significantly better than South Africa, whose World Cup is now mathematically over. They never looked like they really believed in their ability to chase a reachable target.
The only time South Africa were on top all game was during one brilliant spell from Imran Tahir early on in the game. He was into the action early on, tumbling forward and appearing to catch Fakhar Zaman in the deep from Chis Morris’ bowling. But the umpires to give their soft signal as Not Out, the inconclusive replays could not overrule them, and Fakhar was reprieved. Faf du Plessis was furious with how the process played out, the soft signal seemingly depriving South Africa of a wicket.
Tahir was full of frustration and he channelled into his bowling, delivering a seven-over spell of precise bite as good as anything seen this tournament. When he came on Pakistan were 75 without loss and flying. But in his first over Fakhar mindlessly scooped one straight to slip, and soon after that Imam drove one back and Tahir hung on. It was a great return catch and Tahir celebrated with the giddy dancing glee. Tahir had two for 10 from his first four overs, and looked like he had Pakistan in a pin.
Mohammed Hafeez tried to fight back but he overreached against Aiden Markram, missed a sweep and was LBW. It was 143 for three after 30 overs, and Pakistan looked stuck, aiming for 250 at best. But that Hafeez wicket was the best thing that could have happened to them. Because it brought in the brilliant game-changing Sohail.
He knew there was no point in just waiting to get out. So he went straight on the attack: beautiful on-drive off Rabada. A big six over point. Even Tahir, back for a second spell, was smashed through the covers. Babar Azam was re-invigorated simply by Sohail’s presence, and he was on the accelerator when he was caught in the deep on 69.
Still Sohail kept attacking, depositing Phehlukwayo back over his head into the pavilion for six. The Pakistan fans, quiet through the tepid middle overs, were alive again. Sohail did not get his century, but he did drag Pakistan beyond the 300 mark. Which looked far from likely when he arrived at the crease.
Now Pakistan had something to defend, and they tore into South Africa with the ball. They kept making chances and while they did not take every one, they did not need to. From the second ball of the innings, De Kock clipped Hafeez to mid-on but Wahab Riaz could not hold the ball. Like Du Plessis and Miller and Rassie van der Dussen, he punished Pakistan for the drop, but not enough.
Because at the other end Pakistan had Mohammad Amir, and in his first over he pinned Hashim Amla with a brilliant inswinger, and an astute decision to review the decision sent Amla on his way.
There was only one stand, between De Kock and Du Plessis - dropped by Shadab Khan at backward point - when it felt as if South Africa might do it. They put on 87 and as De Kock started to accelerate, hitting big leg-side sixes off Shadab and Wahab Riaz, Pakistan started to get nervous. As if those two early drops would cost them. But De Kock tried to bring up his 50 with another six, and his luck ran out. He picked out Imam at deep square leg, who dived forward to take it.
And with De Kock went South Africa’s momentum and their impetus. From this point on they were always behind, always taking one risk too many. Aiden Markram struggled to make an impact and was soon bowled by a straight one from Shadab.
Du Plessis tried to take responsibility and tried to put Amir into the Mound Stand, but he got a top edge and Sarfraz took the catch. Amir should have had another soon enough, taking a return catch from David Miller, only to spill the ball when his elbows collided with the ground. Soon after that Amir dropped Miller again, a far easier chance at deep third man.
But the gap between the sides was too big for these drops to matter. Because finally Hafeez caught one, to get rid of Van der Dussen for 36, and that was effectively the end of the South African resistance. After Miller was bowled by Shaheen, Wahab came back on to clean up the tail. Charging in from the Nursery End, he bowled Morris, Rabada and Ngidi in three consecutive overs. The game was dead, but Pakistan’s World Cup was still just about alive.
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