LONDON: Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed looks on during a net practice session at Lords on Saturday, ahead of their match against South Africa.—AFP
LONDON: Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed looks on during a net practice session at Lords on Saturday, ahead of their match against South Africa.—AFP

LONDON: Pakistan ought to be far more inspired than South Africa when they meet on Sunday at Lord’s in their must-win World Cup.

Pakistan still have a chance to climb the standings to the semi-final positions, even though it’s a long shot. After South Africa, the Pakistanis play New Zealand, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Of all four opponents, only Afghanistan are below them.

“Pakistan plays better under pressure,” fast bowler Wahab Riaz said on Saturday.

To soothe critical fans at home after the demoralising defeat to India last Sunday, he adds: “We will qualify for the semi-finals.”

Despite the promise, Wahab said the team can’t afford to think beyond this Sunday. The next game against New Zealand won’t mean as much if they don’t beat South Africa.

He said Pakistan have talked openly about their problems: poor fielding, lack of penetration by the bowlers with the new ball, the lack of big scores by the batsmen.

“Good teams are those that discuss and talk about their mistakes openly to each other and we’ve done that. We will make up for our mistakes,” he promises again. “We have to lift ourselves. We are each other’s strength. We are all good friends and know that only 15 of us can lift the team which not even our family members can do.”

Wahab added apart from the win against England, Pakistan have let themselves down in not playing up to standard in the last two matches, defeats to India and Australia.

“Execution of skills is everything,” he remarked. “They [South Africa] have failed in that aspect like us. In this match, it depends on who handles pressure better and plays better.”

Unlike Pakistan, South Africa are all but out. They were saying that after losing to New Zealand on Wednesday and told by a journalist his side was still in semi-finals contention, captain Faf du Plessis said: “Are we?” Yes, mathematically.

South Africa would have to win their three remaining games against Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and defending champions Australia and hope a lot of other teams don’t win a bunch of games, including top-four sides New Zealand, England and India.

Knowing this, and in the emotional aftermath of throwing everything at New Zealand and coming up excruciatingly short, it would be understandable if South Africa are feeling flat.

South Africa have beaten only Afghanistan among five matches and a washout. Injuries have handicapped the bowling attack but it’s been the batsmen who haven’t performed. Only once has South Africa passed 300, nobody has a century, and there’s been only six half-centuries.

Even du Plessis, who is averaging 32 in six innings, blames himself.

“I need to be the leading run-scorer in our batting unit with Quinny [de Kock] probably. That’s been happening the last two seasons,” du Plessis said.

He isn’t though. De Kock leads with 191 runs at this World Cup, Rassie van der Dussen has 180, then du Plessis with 128. Meanwhile, Australia, England, India, New Zealand and Bangladesh all have players with more than 200 runs.

“I am feeling good, just a case of making those starts, turning them into scores. I know my big score is around the corner. I’m feeling good, hitting the ball nicely. But, yeah, I’m part of the guys not putting enough runs on the board,” du Plessis said. “If you look at our batting unit, we’ve got some future talent and some promising players, but if you put our top six and you put the other top sixes around the world, purely on a numbers point of view, we won’t be in the top three. We’re not as experienced perhaps as other teams when it comes to that. We’re just not producing scores or innings that can win you games.”

Published in Dawn, June 23rd, 2019