Pakistan secured a crucial six-wicket victory against previously unbeaten New Zealand in the World Cup clash between the two sides at Edgbaston on Wednesday.
The Green Shirts were only a run away from clinching victory against the Kiwis, with six wickets in hand, when skipper Sarfaraz Ahmed stepped onto the crease to hit the winning shot, after Haris Sohail was run out by Guptill for 68.
Man-of-the-match Babar Azam was the star of the show, scoring a measured 101 off 127 balls — the first century from the side in this tournament — in front of thousands of fanatical fans in Birmingham.
As Babar Azam was a run away from scoring it, four dot balls followed, each drawing out gasps of disappointment from spectators.
The match innings was opened by Imamul Haq and Fakhar Zaman until Zaman was dismissed for nine runs off 10 balls on Boult's delivery caught by Guptill at the end of the third over. He was replaced by Babar Azam.
In the beginning as the overs progressed somewhat slowly, The Guardian, quoting Ian Smith reported that New Zealand need to gallop through their overs as Kane Williamson will be suspended if he’s pinged again for a slow over rate, as he was against the West Indies.
At 5.3 overs, Babar Azam almost got caught out hitting a miscalculated pull shot as Colin de Grandhomme raced back and was just a yard away from completing a remarkable catch.
Imamul Haq became the second wicket to go for the Green Shirts in the 11th over as he edged a hit off Ferguson's ball which was taken by Guptill.
An ESPN Cricinfo commentator analysing Babar's performance said: "Babar needs to play within himself today. People tend to criticise him for his slow strike rate, but this chase is custom-built for him to anchor with a classical knock out of an ODI in the 90s. If he does win it for his team, the tournament table is going to open up furthermore, and the fourth playoff spot's occupation will become as unpredictable as this Pakistan team."
Hafeez hit two beautifully timed boundaries for four on the second and fourth ball of the 15th over.
As Azam hit the 29-run mark at 17.3 overs, he became the second-fastest to 3,000 ODI runs — 68 innings. Amla got there in 57. Viv Richards in 69, and Greenidge, Kirsten, Dhawan, and Root all did it in 72, according to ESPN Cricinfo.
The 19th over almost went without a run when at the last ball Babar hit a boundary for four.
Mohammad Hafeez was the third man to go (32 off 50 balls) and was dismissed by New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson at 24.5 overs.
Azam and Sohail's fourth-wicket partnership of 126 runs laid the groundwork for Pakistan's victory. The 101-run partnership for Azam and Sohail came at 44.4 overs with deafening cheers of support coming in from the stands.
Sohail was the only batsman from the side to hit sixes today. He hit the first with much aggression off Santner's delivery at 29.4 overs and then another massive one (75 metres) at 37.4 overs.
Earlier, as Hafeez and Babar sought to build their partnership, Neesham bowled the most expensive over of the innings in the 23rd over which gave away 13 runs, with Azam and Hafeez each hitting a four.
New Zealand innings
New Zealand managed to post 237 runs for the loss of six wickets, thanks to a 132-runs partnership between James Neesham (97 not out) and Colin de Grandhomme (64).
Pakistani bowlers ripped through Kiwis' top order who were 84 for five by the 27th over. Mohammad Amir struck on his first ball, dismissing New Zealand opener Martin Guptill (5) in the second over.
Shaheen Afridi stood out, bagging three wickets for just 28 runs in his 10 over spell. He dismissed New Zealand opener Colin Munro (12) in the seventh over, which was all the more precious as it was also a maiden.
Haris Sohail successfully held on to the ball at first slip after Munro tried to drive a slightly wide delivery by Afridi.
Afridi then took out Ross Taylor (3) as Pakistan skipper Sarfraz Ahmed dove to his right to take an impressive one-handed catch in the ninth over. New Zealand were 38 for 3 when Tom Latham (1) joined his captain Kane Williamson on the crease.
Latham too fell to Afridi who struck again in the 13th over. The Guardian described Afridi's spell as the "spell of his teenage life". Until that point, he had picked up three wickets for 11 runs in seven overs.
New Zealand were jolted by Pakistani bowling attack once again when Shadab Khan bagged the crucial wicket of skipper Kane Williamson (41) in the 27th over. The wicket came just as Williamson and Neesham were moving towards a partnership after New Zealand's top order crumbled before Pakistani bowlers.
It took 32 overs for New Zealand to make it to 100 runs, who lost five wickets along the way.
Neesham and de Grandhomme then stood their ground to give their team a fighting chance, forming a 100-plus runs partnership.
Toss and pre-match chatter
New Zealand had won the toss and chose to bat first against Pakistan in the high-stakes Cricket World Cup game at Edgbaston, Birmingham.
Speaking after the toss, Ahmed said that he would have chosen to bat first as well, had he won the toss.
He admitted that "catching was still a concern but we work hard [to improve] it".
"Hopefully we'll do well as a fielding unit today," he said.
When asked if Pakistan — who bounced back on Sunday after a demoralising defeat from India and kicked South Africa out of the tournament — could make it to the World Cup semifinals, Ahmed said: "Pakistan can do anything."
New Zealand captain Williamson was quoted by ESPN Cricinfo as saying: "You turn up and know you'll have a tough game, as Pakistan are a very tough side. For us, it's trying to build on those performances and keep improving."
The match was delayed by an hour because of a wet outfield. Following pitch inspection at Edgbaston at 2.30pm — when the game was scheduled to start — it was announced that the toss would take place at 3pm and the match at 3.30pm with no overs lost.
The delay did not deter Pakistan's fans, who arrived at the stadium with a flourish.