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NOTTINGHAM: Sarfraz Ahmed leads his team off the pitch after Pakistan won their World Cup match against England at Trent Bridge on Monday.—AFP
NOTTINGHAM: Sarfraz Ahmed leads his team off the pitch after Pakistan won their World Cup match against England at Trent Bridge on Monday.—AFP

PAKISTAN cricket did what Pakistan cricket does best by confounding all form and predictions to defeat tournament favourites England in a tense encounter at Trent Bridge. Sarfraz Ahmed’s team had forgotten how to win during a run of eleven consecutive defeats. But Pakistan’s experienced hands revived the team’s fortunes with an exhilarating comeback that has echoes in every era of the country’s enigmatic cricket.

Royally criticised after an embarrassing defeat to the West Indies on Friday, Pakistan vowed to persist with a positive approach. They stiffened their batting at Trent Bridge, recalling Shoaib Malik and Asif Ali in place of Haris Sohail and Imad Wasim. The attitude of the bowlers was exemplified by bowling coach Azhar Mahmood, who emphasised that Pakistan needed only ten good balls to bowl out England.

Indeed, Pakistan built on their first outing with a good all-round bowling display. Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz justified their recalls, using their experience to guide Pakistan over the line. The spinners played a major part too. Shadab Khan, who opened the bowling, picked up the key wickets of Jason Roy and Joe Root. While Mohammad Hafeez and Malik took care of Eoin Morgan and Ben Stokes.

Contrasting hundreds from Joe Root and Jos Butler had laid the foundation for an England victory. Root was classy and energetic, while Buttler was muscular and aggressive. Peculiarly, both went quickly after reaching a hundred by slashing a wide ball to short third man. Within moments, despair turned to disbelief for Pakistan and their supporters.

Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz justified their recall by combining hostility with composure in the death overs to guide their side to a badly needed victory

The day might have been easier for Pakistan had Babar Azam caught Root at slip when he was on 9. Sarfraz missed a catch and stumping against Moeen Ali in one delivery from Shadab. Asif spilled a hard boundary chance off Chris Woakes. In every way, from competitive bowling to shoddy fielding, Pakistan’s performance in England’s innings had a familiar feel to it.

The tension was still high when Wahab returned for his final spell. England needed 38 off three overs. Woakes lofted Wahab for a glorious six over mid off. Two balls later, Moeen Ali scooped a slow wide bouncer into the air the safe hands of Fakhar Zaman at backward point. Next ball, Woakes edged a snorting short ball through to Sarfraz. Wahab was on a hat trick, once ore rising to the occasion in a World Cup. Four balls later, he dived forward to catch Jofra Archer at third man to effectively win the game for Pakistan.

England had made no secret of their desire to further exploit Pakistan’s perceived weakness against short pitched bowling. They recalled fast bowler Mark Wood to back up Archer. Next they put Pakistan in to bat and posted three slips.

Any nerves, however, were banished by measured aggression from openers Zaman and Imam-ul-Haq. England bowled short but failed to conjure the same threat as West Indies’ giants. This Trent Bridge pitch was friendlier than the last one and Pakistan applied themselves better. Improved shot selection and execution helped the openers to 82 before the first wicket fell.

Fakhar had motored against England’s pace attack but became bogged down against England’s spinners. His dismissal brought in Babar Azam, who played a sublime innings of effortless quality. For once, though, Barbar wasn’t Pakistan’s best performer. That honour went to Mohammad Hafeez, who bristled with intent from the moment he arrived at the crease. Hafeez has struggled in England facing good length bowling on or outside off stump. Luckily for him that is a rare strategy in one day international cricket. Here, he was equal to the short and full lengths that England fired at him, playing one of his finest innings in international cricket.

With Hafeez at four, Pakistan’s batting strength lies in its top order. The middle order is less certain, which is an unusual state of affairs for Pakistan. One of the issues in the current team is where to bat Sarfraz Ahmed? Pakistan’s captain is an improviser, an impulsive strokemaker, but he looks a misfit batting higher than the lower middle order. It also makes little sense to deprive both Asif Ali and Shoaib Malik time to build an innings. Malik, in particular, might be better placed at number five.

Asif Ali’s poignant return following the death of his young daughter was made memorable by an audacious six off Archer. England’s fast bowler sought to intimidate Asif unleashing yet another short ball, Asif Ali waited and launched high and handsome over the point boundary. His was a minor contribution, but it was important for Asif to put this return innings behind him.

Nothing may be new under the sun of Pakistan cricket but this victory was as surprising as we have seen at a World Cup, and it suddenly places Pakistan back in contention for a semifinal place. When the ground tannoy started playing ‘Dil Dil Pakistan’ it was almost as if an ancient magic was being rekindled.

Scoreboard

PAKISTAN:

Batsmen & mode of dismissals R B 4s 6s SR
Imam-ul-Haq c Woakes b Moeen 44 58 3 1 75.86
Fakhar Zaman st Buttler b Moeen 38 40 6 0 90.00
Babar Azam c Woakes b Moeen 63 66 4 1 95.45
Mohammad Hafeez c Woakes b Wood 84 62 8 2 135.48
Sarfraz Ahmed c and b Woakes 55 44 5 0 125.00
Asif Ali c Bairstow b Wood 14 11 0 1 127.27
Shoaib Malik c Morgan b Woakes 8 8 0 0 100.00
Wahab Riaz c Root b Woakes 4 2 1 0 200.00
Hasan Ali not out 10 5 0 1 200.00
Shadab Khan not out 10 4 2 0 250.00

EXTRAS: (B-1, LB-8, W-11) 20 — — — —
TOTAL: (for eight wkts, 50 overs) 348 — — — —

FALL OF WKTS: 1-82 (Fakhar, 14.1 ov), 2-111 (Imam, 20.1 ov), 3-199 (Babar, 32.5 ov), 4-279 (Hafeez, 42.4 ov), 5-311 (Asif, 46.1 ov), 6-319 (Sarfraz, 47.2 ov), 7-325 (Wahab, 47.5 ov), 8-337 (Malik, 49.1 ov).

BOWLING: Woakes 8-1-71-3 (2w); Archer 10-0-79-0 (4w); Moeen Ali 10-0-50-3; Wood 10-0-53-2 (2w); Stokes 7-0-43-0; Adil Rashid 5-0-43-0 (1w).

ENGLAND:

Batsmen & mode of dismissals R B 4s 6s SR
J.J. Roy lbw b Shadab 8 7 2 0 114.28
J.M. Bairstow c Sarfraz b Wahab 32 31 4 1 103.22
J.E. Root c Hafeez b Shadab 107 104 10 1 102.88
E.J.G. Morgan b Hafeez 9 18 1 0 50.00
B.A. Stokes c Sarfraz b Malik 13 13 18 1 72.22
J.C. Buttler c Wahab b Amir 103 76 9 2 135.52
Moeen Ali c Fakhar b Wahab 19 20 1 0 95.00
C.R. Woakes c Sarfraz b Wahab 21 14 1 1 150.00
J.C. Archer c Wahab b Amir 1 2 0 0 50.00
Adil Rashid not out 3 4 0 0 75.00
M.A. Wood not out 10 6 2 0 166.66

EXTRAS: (LB-3, W-5) 8 — — — —
TOTAL: (for nine wkts, 50 overs) 334 — — — —

FALL OF WKTS: 1-12 (Roy, 2.1 ov), 2-60 (Bairstow, 8.6 ov), 3-86 (Morgan, 14.5 ov), 4-118 (Stokes, 21.2 ov), 5-248 (Root, 38.5 ov), 6-288 (Buttler, 44.3 ov), 7-320 (Moeen, 47.5 ov), 8-320 (Woakes, 47.6 ov), 9-322 (Archer, 48.4 ov).

BOWLING: Shadab Khan 10-0-63-2; Mohammad Amir 10-0-67-2 (3w); Wahab Riaz 10-0-82-3 (1w); Hasan Ali 10-0-66-0 (1w); Mohammad Hafeez 7-0-43-1; Shoaib Malik 3-0-10-1.

MAN-OF-THE-MATCH: Mohammad Hafeez.

Published in Dawn, June 4th, 2019