BIRMINGHAM: The New Zealanders are doing it again. Often the quiet achievers at World Cups, New Zealand can secure their eighth semi-final spot with a win against resurgent Pakistan side at Edgbaston on Wednesday.
The unbeaten Black Caps have 11 points from six games; seventh-place Pakistan have five points with an outside chance of advancing if they win all their remaining fixtures and hope other results go in their favour.
The two teams have history at the World Cup. Pakistan are hoping for a repeat of 1992 when they endured a poor start, before going on to win the title after beating New Zealand in the semi-final.
Reaching the last four has become commonplace for the Black Caps with other semi-final appearances in 1975, 1979, 1999 (against Pakistan), 2007, 2011 and 2015. They finally broke a hoodoo last time around to advance for the first time to the final, but then lost to co-hosts Australia.
Pakistan’s lineup knows any realistic hopes of making the last four would end with a defeat. A key challenge for them will be claiming Kane Williamson cheaply.
Pakistan bowling coach Azhar Mahmood knows what his team has to do.
“They [New Zealand] are a very strong side and have won all their games,” Azhar told a news conference Tuesday. “They’ve got match winners in their side, so it’s going to be crucial for us to take wickets with the new ball.”
Dismissing Williamson has proved difficult so far, with New Zealand skipper’s four innings at the tournament producing 40, 79 not out, 106 not out and in his last game after coming in at 7-2 against West Indies 148. Williamson has scored 373 runs so far at this tournament and is a major headache for opposing teams.
Williamson didn’t score a run in the New Zealand-India encounter, but then again nobody did. It was a complete washout.
The 28-year-old Williamson could face his greatest threat away from the stumps with a one-match ban hovering over the captain if New Zealand are again too slow completing their overs during the dramatic win over the West Indies at Old Trafford.
Both teams impress with pace. Pakistan’s Mohammad Amir took 5-30 against defending champions Australia, bowling figures only bettered at this World Cup by Bangladesh’s Shakib Al Hasan with 5-29 against Afghanistan on Monday.
Amir has 15 wickets so far, one more than New Zealand quick Lockie Ferguson who reaches speeds of around 145 kph (90 mph).
The Pakistan batsmen will need to avoid being contained by left-arm seamer Trent Boult, who goes into the match as the fifth best on the dot ball charts 177 so far in this edition.
Underdogs Pakistan take one advantage into every match. Fans, players and politicians alike know the team is able to beat any team in world cricket if motivated enough. Staying alive in the World Cup could be sufficient motivation on Wednesday.
“If we can get our discipline right like last game in batting, bowling and fielding then we can beat any side,” Azhar said. “If we do the basics right, it’s just about us, not them.”
The 2017 Champions Trophy winners showed signs of resurgence against the Proteas, with openers Fakhar Zaman and Babar Azam adding 81 for the first wicket.
Azhar was pleased with Pakistan’s all-round display heading into the business end of the tournament but warned his players it will count for nothing if they do no take their chances in the opening Powerplays against New Zealand. “If we can get our discipline right like last game - in batting, bowling and fielding - then we can beat any side.”
New Zealand spinner Mitchell Santner, meanwhile, said his team could not afford to take ‘dangerous’ Pakistan lightly.
“Obviously, they’ve had a pretty good record over here,” said the spinning all-rounder on the eve of the match at Edgbaston. “They won the Champions Trophy a couple of years ago and they’ve come off a pretty good win against South Africa.”
Santner praised Pakistan’s varied bowling attack.
“Their bowling attack on the whole is very good. They’ve got some very good seam bowlers as well as spin bowlers. We’re aware of their strengths, and I think Wahab [Riaz] back into their team is very good for them. Amir is bowling very well as well.”
Santner said Pakistan, who have lost three matches at the World Cup so far, had the ability to raise their game despite their troubles.
“They took down England and took down South Africa the other day,” he said. “When they’re hot, they’re really hot. We have to, obviously, find ways of trying to cool them down when they’re like that.”
Published in Dawn, June 26th, 2019