Pakistan knocked South Africa out of World Cup 2019 on Sunday with a 49-run win over the Proteas. Here are our five takeaways from that match:
1- Discovering Haris Sohail at 30
It almost feels like we’ve discovered a new gem in Haris Sohail. Except those who follow the Pakistan team know that he had made his debut ages ago in 2013. In the six long years, he has played a grand total of 36 ODIs. For comparison, Babar Azam, who made his debut two years later in 2015 has almost twice the number of caps under his belt (72).
Sohail, now 30 years old, who averages 47, has a strike rate of 85 and can bowl, is being "discovered" at the top level. It’s a tragedy and a borderline crime how the set-up keeps the deserving out and robs them of their prime cricketing years.
The leftie’s 89 runs against South Africa needed just 59 balls but did not need slogging and was everything you do not expect from a Pakistan batsman. Well done not-so-young lad, and sorry.
2- Openers hold the key
Sohail’s contribution is even more important as it came at a time when the top order had once again done the hard work but failed to capitalise on it. The top four’s inability to convert their starts into something big has been discussed to death in World Cup 2019. Yesterday was no different.
While Imamul Haq’s dismissal was due to an inspired play by Imran Tahir, Fakhar Zaman’s was totally avoidable. Babar Azam did well for his 69 but still couldn't manage a three-figure score, whereas Mohammad Hafeez consumed all the balls a batsman needs to get set before being sent back to the pavilion.
The quartet should thank Sohail for bailing them out, but if one of the top four does not stick around till the last few overs in upcoming matches, Pakistan could be in greater trouble than they already are in.
3- That missing batsman
The batting line-up did reasonably well but one can’t help but think that the composition as it currently stands is lacking a conventional hitter. Imad Wasim has a decent strike rate of 108.71 but he still isn’t someone who you can expect to consistently hit the big shots late in the game.
Asif Ali is exactly that player but is too out of form to be taken a chance on. The absence of that kind of player threatens to curtail the effectiveness of the classic ODI strategy to start steadily, keep wickets and then accelerate in the final 10 or 15.
4- Amir's continued excellence
Though excellent throughout the tournament, the one question mark on Mohammad Amir was that he was picking wickets in his follow-up spells and not with the new ball. Furthermore, his line had been excellent but the swing of Amir 1.0 was still not there.
His performance against South Africa erased those two blemishes as well. He swung his very first ball of the match and picked up a wicket the very first ball of the game too. The only thing he is missing now is a genuine new-ball partner.
5- Was this the real Pakistan?
After matches like this, one has to ask the question: is this the real Pakistan or was it the one that got blown to smithereens by India last week? An easy answer lies in the fact that the fielders dropped a mindboggling seven catches. This definitely was the real Pakistan because only they can drop this many in a single game.
The dropped catches did not come back to haunt the team this time — thanks to South Africa being hell-bent on going home — but on any other day such a display could prove disastrous.
It’s time for Grant Bradburn to earn his keep.