Cricket World Cup 2019

Pakistan revival lifts hopes of 1992 title repeat

Pakistan's Babar Azam hitting a four at Edgbaston, Birmingham on Wednesday. His 101 not out was instrumental in the team chasing down New Zealand with five balls remaining. PHOTO: REUTERS
Pakistan's Babar Azam hitting a four at Edgbaston, Birmingham on Wednesday. His 101 not out was instrumental in the team chasing down New Zealand with five balls remaining. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Pakistan, seemingly dead and buried not so long ago, are making a late surge in the direction of the Cricket World Cup's semi-final spots, with the winds of their victorious 1992 campaign possibly behind them once more if the form book is anything to go by.

In Wednesday's six-wicket win over New Zealand at Edgbaston, a ground that could easily have been Karachi such was the atmosphere, they have matched, game for game, the results of Imran Khan's team, including a washout.

On seven points and, with games against Afghanistan and Bangladesh to come, Sarfaraz Ahmed's current generation look as poised as any to pounce should fourth-placed England, on eight points, fail to chalk up wins from their fixtures against India and New Zealand.

As a sea of green supporters roared them on and local seismologists probably stared quizzically at their instruments, it came down to a masterful unbeaten 101 from Babar Azam who, along with a 76-ball 68 from Haris Sohail, chased down the target of 238 with five balls to spare.

Jimmy Neesham's unbeaten 97, a career best, had earlier helped New Zealand post 237 for six, a total that was defendable given the slow, capricious surface as a result of rainy conditions in Birmingham.

On Sunday, the new pitch at Edgbaston that hosts England will play on against India is expected to provide more pace than the stodgy strip being used for the second time in the tournament.

But Azam transcended these conditions, overcoming the pace of Lockie Ferguson, the swing of Trent Boult and some considerable turn from Mitchell Santner's left-armers with a friction-less innings of 127 balls and 11 fours via some delightful cover drives.

Afterwards, social media was abuzz that the identical sequence of wins and losses, and other eerie parallels was a sign that Pakistan could be set to come out top again.

Fast bowling great Wasim Akram, who was part of the 1992 squad, expressed his hope that "end result is also similar now", adding: "I am not sure if players are following all these (discussions) but this should motivate them."

But captain Ahmed played down any parallels, calling it "history", although he appeared surprised when it was put to him that his team, just like in 1992, chased down New Zealand's target with five balls to spare.

And Mr Khan, who is now Pakistan's Prime Minister, also hailed the "great comeback" on his Twitter page, with Azam and Sohail getting special mention.

While New Zealand would have become the second team to reach the semi-finals, after champions Australia, had they not suffered their first defeat, they were flattered by their early schedule.

  • 97

    Jimmy Neesham's unbeaten score for the Black Caps proved futile.

Their tally of 11 points includes a washout against India followed by skin-of-the-teeth victories over South Africa and West Indies.

But the all-rounder Neesham insisted that "for us, nothing changes", adding: "You'd be pretty naive to expect to go through the whole tournament unbeaten.

"For us, it's all about making it to the semi-finals, and you're only two good games away from lifting the trophy. We'll prepare for the next game the same way we've prepared for the last six."

New Zealand know a win or a washout against either Australia tomorrow or England next week will be enough to make the final four.

And Pakistan? When they are in this mood, you would not bet against them.



Singtel TV Ch123 & StarHub Ch236, 5pm

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 28, 2019, with the headline 'Pakistan revival lifts hopes of 1992 title repeat'. Print Edition | Subscribe