PAKISTAN’S convincing 49-run win over South Africa on Sunday has once again rekindled hopes of them making it to the World Cup semi-finals, though realistically, it is a difficult target to achieve.
It was a commendable performance, indeed, from a team that had appeared down and out after being defeated by India last Sunday, and that has been at the receiving end of scathing criticism from dejected fans. The South Africans, who have certainly not been at their best in this tournament, were determined to go out on a winning note, and wanted to take advantage of a demoralised Pakistani team. Instead, they encountered a buoyant outfit that had picked up the pieces. The openers provided a solid start, and the prolific Babar Azam was again among the runs.
Thankfully, Shadab Khan and Wahab Riaz, who had so far appeared off colour, performed well in the crucial contest, while Mohammad Amir continued with his lethal form. However, it was Man of the Match Haris Sohail who stole the show with his breathtaking, match-winning knock of 89. The affable left-hander, who had sulked in the dugout for the last three games as his senior Shoaib Malik made a mess of things in the middle, grabbed the opportunity to hit out at the Proteas attack.
More importantly, Sarfraz Ahmed’s captaincy was aggressive and imaginative, which choked any sort of fight-back by the other side in the run chase. In the two matches against Australia and India, Sarfraz had been criticised for not being fully engaged and for being short on ideas. But on Sunday, under him, his charges executed the game plan to the letter.
Having said that, there is no margin for error; Pakistan has to win all their three matches to make any sort of case for playing the semi-finals. Despite the win against South Africa, they languish at a lowly seventh spot with an unimpressive scoring rate. The fielding, too, remains a major worry and may well be the deciding factor against a fiercely competitive rival like New Zealand that they face next. How far Pakistan can go in this tournament also depends on how teams like England, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka fare in their remaining games. But luck favours the brave, and if Pakistan maintain their renewed impetus, they can still pull off the unthinkable.
Published in Dawn, June 25th, 2019