NZ vs PAK | Takeaways – Shaheen Afridi weaves magic and Babar Azam finally converts

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NZ vs PAK | Takeaways – Shaheen Afridi weaves magic and Babar Azam finally converts

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Suraj Choudhari

06/27/2019

In an uncanny coincidence, Pakistan have managed to replicate their performance from the 1992 World Cup, will they go on to win the title? They are rightly labelled as the most unpredictable side and their win over New Zealand, who were yet to be beaten in the tournament, corroborates the belief.

Shaheen Afridi irons out the chinks in Pakistan’s bowling 

One of the main reasons behind Pakistan’s resurgence in the 2017 Champions Trophy was their intimidating bowling. More often than not, teams with a brawny bowling attack tend to do well in the business end of a big tournament, especially the knock-outs. However, the same confidence in Pakistan’s bowling was missing this season and the key reason behind it was Hasan Ali’s parched wickets column. 

Wahab Riaz and Mohammad Amir did well to justify their questionable selection but at this level, small weaknesses are brutally exploited and the dearth of an impactful third seamer was hampering their run massively. They had to do something and take a call as early as possible with every game being a must-win one. Finally, Pakistan decided to invest in Shaheen Afridi’s abilities and the move paid off rich dividends in this encounter.

The presence of two left-arm seamers coupled with Afridi’s hot and cold form didn’t play in his favour. But Australia’s performance last night debunked the myth of having too many left-armers and Pakistan made a bold move by including all three left-arm seamers. 

Afridi exploited the conditions well to tighten the noose around New Zealand with the new ball. He not only squeezed the runs but also bagged crucial wickets of Colin Munro, Ross Taylor, and Tom Latham. His figure of 3 for 28 in 10 was easily one of the best ODI spells in a World Cup by a Pakistani bowler and has made his presence unavoidable for the games to come. More importantly, he has ironed out the chinks in Pakistan’s bowling armour.   

New Zealand’s middle-order rises to the occasion

It does not require any rocket science to realise that New Zealand’s batting revolves around their skipper and Ross Taylor. They have been the pillars of strength and have played key roles behind their rise in the tournament so far. Losing wickets in heap at the start was not a major concern but after losing Williamson with the score of 83, New Zealand definitely needed a miracle to cross the 200-run mark from that precarious situation. And that miracle was sprung by Jimmy Neesham and Colin de Grandhomme.

Under immense pressure, the duo stitched a fighting partnership to weather the storm and help New Zealand post a challenging total on a tricky surface. Neesham stuck to his guns and came out hard when his team needed the most while de Grandhomme rendered good support. Pakistani bowlers were making the ball talk and needed a different set of skills to negotiate that. Though the conditions had eased out a little, batting was still very difficult. 

A miscalculated second run cost Grandhomme his wicket on 64 but the situation demanded quick runs while Neesham remained unbeaten on 97 and deserved a century. The duo accelerated very well and their success will only release some pressure from the veterans. New Zealand are scheduled to play heavyweights Australia and England in their last two fixtures. Against these two sides, New Zealand will have to fire on all cylinders and will need the batting to click as a unit.

Babar Azam finally converts on the big stage

22, 63, 30, 48 and 69. These are the scores Azam had managed to garner prior to this game. He got emphatic starts but failed to cross the 100-run milestone, which is atrocious at this level. One just cannot afford to throw it away after getting their eyes in and Azam was doing it time and again.

Coming to this game, the conditions were not batting-friendly and would have suited Azam’s style of play. But the doubt of him throwing it away was always looming large and he not only had to overcome a mental barrier but also the threatening Kiwi bowling. New Zealand bowlers prefer this kind of a surface and have wreaked havoc in similar conditions. 238 was no cakewalk for Pakistan and by sending the openers early, New Zealand managed to get a hold on the game. 

The asking rate was not too demanding and Azam knew the match would be won if Pakistan managed to play out 50 overs and he had to play a big role in that. After a sluggish start, the elegant right-handed batsman brought his A game to the fore and milked runs with his watertight technique and impeccable temperament. 

Mitchell Santner was turning the ball square but Azam and Haris Sohail ensured they didn’t throw it away and fought on. With two back-to-back wins, Pakistan chances of making it to the semi-finals are very high, provided they win their next two fixtures too. And for that to happen Azam will have to consistently churn out runs in the middle.

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