A resurgent Pakistan made an emphatic comeback from their dismal performance against India last week with a 47-run victory over South Africa in the 30th match of the World Cup at Lord's Cricket Ground on Sunday.
The Greenshirts won the toss and batted first, setting a hefty 309-run target for the Proteas that they struggled valiantly to meet, ultimately crashing out of the tournament.
Haris Sohail was named Man of the Match. "It was very difficult to sit out of the games, but I knew I would get the opportunity and I was backing myself to do well. When I went in there, the plan was to build a partnership with Babar. It was not easy, but we did well," he said at the end of the game.
Skipper Sarfaraz Ahmed, who has been on the receiving end of some particularly ugly criticism after the last match, seemed like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders today. "I think it's a complete team performance," he said. "Credit to the openers. They played really well. Then Babar took over. And Haris Sohail put in a great performance."
"We changed the combination in this game," he said. "Couple of games earlier, we went with another combination [...] Sometimes change is good for the team. Today, the way Haris batted, he is hungry to play in the game. He was the main factor, the turning point. The way he batted in the last 15 overs, it was like Jos Buttler."
The skipper admitted the team needs to work harder on its fielding ─ they dropped at least six catches today. "All three matches now are very crucial and we have to sort it out."
For both teams, the fixture was a fight for survival. Neither of them had won more than one game so far, but Pakistan had a match in hand and a slightly better chance of making the semi-finals.
Pakistan, who have been trying to shake the 'unpredictable' tag, remarkably clawed their way back from a thumping defeat by India on June 16 that left morale low and exposed the national side to harsh, widespread criticism.
The match opened quietly, with a dull South Africa side lacking punch in their performance. Pakistan played cautiously, building up their total slowly without losing too many early wickets too soon.
The Proteas also perked up after some pressure on the Greenshirts by Imran Tahir seemed to inject energy into the South African side. Pakistan posted a total of 308 for 7 wickets as the stands, awash with green, cheered their team on.
The openers, Fakhar Zaman and Imamul Haq, maintained a steady strike rate, posting 50 in the 8th over, and pulling together a solid 81-run partnership before the former was dismissed.
Imam got a scare in the 7th over when Kagiso Rabada sent a fullish delivery his way, just outside leg stump. Although it hit Imam's front pad and Rabada appealed for an LBW, it wasn't given. Du Plessis didn't try for a review, either.
- Imamul Haq (35) and Fakhar Zaman (44): 81 from 91 balls
- Imamul Haq (9) and Babar Azam (8): 17 from 34 balls
- Babar Azam (23) and Mohammad Hafeez (20): 45 from 57 balls
- Babar Azam (38) and Haris Sohail (40): 81 from 68 balls
- Haris Sohail (43) and Imad Wasim (23): 71 from 40 balls
- Haris Sohail (5) and Wahab Riaz (4) : 9 from 7 balls
- Haris Sohail (1) and Sarfaraz Ahmed (2): 3 from 4 balls
- Sarfaraz Ahmed (0) and Shadab Khan (1): 1 from 1 ball
The momentum in South Africa's game seemed to pick up a bit in the 12th over, when Imran Tahir caught Fakhar at the boundary off a delivery from Chris Morris.
The umpire gave it not out since it seemed to have touched the grass before it found its way into Tahir's hands.
But Tahir had the last laugh when he got Fakhar out two overs later. The opener was just 6 runs short of 50 when he attempted an awkward scoop off the South African bowler in his maiden over, sending the ball into Hashim Amla's waiting hands.
Tahir, the oldest player this World Cup, took an extraordinary diving catch to dismiss Imamul Haq (44) off his own delivery in the 21st over, making him the leading wicket taker for South Africa in World Cups. The spinner has surpassed Allan Donald's 38 WC wickets. 100 came up for Pakistan in the 22nd over.
Tahir continued to ratchet up the pressure on the Pakistani batsmen, playing in his part in two near-misses for Mohammad Hafeez in two consecutive deliveries in the 25th over. He didn't look to du Plessis for a review on Hafeez, though, and South Africa lost their review.
Andile Phehlukwayo went on to bowl an economical 26th over, followed by Tahir, Aiden Markram and Rabada, all of whom kept the pressure up on Pakistan and restricted their batsmen to an anemic run rate of 4.9 by the end of the 33rd over. The run rate rose gradually to the mid-fives after the Hafeez wicket.
Phehlukwayo took Babar Azam's crucial wicket in the 42nd over, sending him packing with a solid 69 runs under his belt. Shortly after, 50 came up for Haris as well, making him and Azam the only two batsmen on the side to hit the milestone this innings.
Imad Wasim and Haris struck up a hefty 71-run partnership off 40 balls before Ngidi got Imad out in the 48th over.
First Wahab Riaz, then Haris, was taken out by Ngidi in the last over. Shadab Khan snatched a risky run off the last ball of the innings, nearly getting run out. But he remained safe and brought Pakistan's total up to 308 for the loss of 7 wickets.
South Africa innings
South Africa struggled hard to meet the target set by Pakistan. The opening batsmen, particularly skipper Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock's 87-run partnership set the stage for what could have been an easy innings for the Proteas batsmen.
But after de Kock's wicket, none of the South African batsmen seemed to be able to settle in at the crease for a prolonged period of time. At the tail end of the game, the Proteas were bleeding wickets under an onslaught by Pakistani bowlers. They crashed out of the tournament with 259-9 at the end of their innings.
Du Plessis, after the match, conceded that his team is "not playing great cricket".
"Whole tournament we've been good with the ball, but today we gave them a really good start. Pulled it back in the middle, but giving them 300-plus was 20 too many," he said, adding that his side's batsmen had struggled with confidence "and that cost us 30-40 runs".
"Imran Tahir has been amazing. He's been exceptional. He's played with a lot of heart and he's led our bowling attack but there hasn't been enough guys like Imran standing up," he pointed out. "For me the biggest downside is that we're not doing justice to ourselves as team [...] But we are letting ourselves down considering the skill that's in that dressing room."
As the game opened, the Proteas appeared to be in danger of capsizing as Mohammad Amir struck early on, capturing Hashim Amla's wicket off his first delivery in his first over.
But Quinton de Kock and skipper Faf du Plessis held the ship steady after the initial loss, bringing up ─ and keeping ─ the run rate to a decent 7-something level.
- Hashim Amla (2) and Quinton de Kock (1): 3 from 7 balls
- Quinton de Kock (46) and Faf du Plessis (41): 87 from 109 balls
- Faf du Plessis (5) and Aiden Markram (7): 12 from 23 balls
- Faf du Plessis and Rassie van der Dussen: 33 from 38 balls
- Rassie van der Dussen (20) and David Miller (30): 50 from 61 balls
- David Miller (1) and Andile Phehlukwayo (2): 3 from 7 balls
- Andile Phehlukwayo (13) and Chris Morris (16): 29 from 21 balls
- Andile Phehlukwayo (13) and Kagiso Rabada (3): 16 from 15 balls
- Andile Phehlukwayo (5) and Lungi Ngidi (1): 6 from 9 balls
- Andile Phehlukwayo (12) and Imran Tahir (1): 13 from 10 balls
Their 87-run partnership was terminated off a Shadab Khan delivery in the 20th over. De Kock dispatched the ball to the boundary, where Imamul Haq lay in wait; he dove to his left and scooped the ball up, just inches away from the ground.
Shadab struck again in the 24th over, sending Aiden Markram back to the pavilion with 7 runs to his name.
With skipper du Plessis at the crease along with Rassie van der Dussen, South Africa appeared to be in charge of the chase. The two batsmen had managed a 33-run partnership that brought South Africa up to 136. But then Amir attacked a second time, taking du Plessis' all-important scalp with some help from skipper Sarfaraz, who took the crucial catch for his side.
Two Wahab Riaz deliveries were dropped by Sarfaraz and Amir in the 37th over (Pakistan have dropped a whopping 6 catches this innings). But by then, chances of a comeback by the Proteas appeared to be fading, with the middle-order fighting back dutifully ─ but unsuccessfully ─ to bring up their run rate to the required 10.84 as the side tried to meet the the target of 141 runs from the remaining 78 deliveries.
Even as South Africa's middle-order were battling the pressure, Shadab Khan swooped in to steal another wicket. This time, he got van der Dussen to send a catch to Mohammad Hafeez in the 40th over. He turned up the heat on South Africa again, with Miller escaping a near-LBW.
In the next over, though, Shaheen Shah took care of that problem with a slow delivery. He sent the ball spinning off to the top of middle and leg, dismantling the stumps, leaving the Proteas with yet another man down.
Wahab Riaz put yet another nail in South Africa's coffin when he bowled Chris Morris for 16 runs in the 45th over, leaving the Proteas' bottom-order the unsavoury task of manning a sinking ship.
It was all downhill from there. Kagiso Rabada was taken out by Wahab in the 47th over and Lungi Ngidi in the 49th.
Imran Tahir and Phehlukwayo were the last men standing as South Africa reached a total of 259 by the end of their innings.
Toss, pre-match chatter
Pakistan won the toss and opted to bat against South Africa. The forecast is for cloudy but warm conditions.
"Looks like a good batting pitch and some grass cover on it," Sarfaraz said at the toss. "We are not thinking about the pressure, just focusing on the game, which is very important for us."
Du Plessis said he would have bowled first even if he had won the toss.
Pakistan made two changes from its defeat to India last weekend, bringing in batsman Haris Sohail and bowler Shaheen Afridi for Shoaib Malik and Hasan Ali.
South Africa remained unchanged after its narrow loss to New Zealand on Wednesday.
Fast bowler Mohammad Amir has 13 wickets this World Cup, at an average of just 13.
Fakhar Zaman, Imamul Haq, Babar Azam, Mohammad Hafeez, Haris Sohail, Imad Wasim, Sarfaraz Ahmed (c)(wk), Shadab Khan, Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Amir, Shaheen Shah Afridi.
Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis, Aiden Markram, Rassie van der Dussen, David Miller, Andile Phehlukwayo, Chris Morris, Kagiso Rabada, Imran Tahir, Lungi Ngidi.