T20 World Cup: Final spot on the line as Pakistan, New Zealand collide after contrasting campaigns

Published November 9, 2022
New Zealand players attend a training session at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Tuesday.—AFP
New Zealand players attend a training session at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Tuesday.—AFP

SYDNEY: Pakistan, cricket’s most unpredictable side, and New Zealand, the game’s quiet achievers, clash in the opening Twenty20 World Cup semi-final on Wednesday after making their way to the knockout rounds by starkly contrasting paths.

The Black Caps hammered hosts and champions Australia in their tournament opener, had a match washed out and lost a high-quality contest to England before reaching a fifth successive white-ball World Cup semi-final as group winners.

Pakistan’s journey started with a remarkable loss to India in front of 92,000 fans at Melbourne Cricket Ground which was followed by an equ­ally dramatic upset at the hands of Zimb­abwe and a rain-disrupted win over South Africa.

Read: Pakistan rediscover the magic of 1992 — for real

Then against the odds they went through when the Proteas were stunned by the Dutch and Pakistan eased past Bangladesh in the final round of group matches.

It put the 2009 champions unexpectedly into the last four for a second straight tournament and you get the impression, however, that that is pretty much the way Pakistan like it.

 Pakistan’s mentor Matthew Hayden gestures at a press conference at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Tuesday. —AFP
Pakistan’s mentor Matthew Hayden gestures at a press conference at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Tuesday. —AFP

“Shadab [Khan] actually said something very significant in the dugout the other day, he said: ‘Welcome to Pakistan cricket’,” team mentor Matthew Hayden said on Tuesday.

“Meaning that on any given day, anything can happen. When Netherlands beat South Africa, it was a significant moment for us in the tournament and as a result of that, I feel that there was very much an uplifting of tempo in our group,” added Hayden, who was batting coach for Pakistan at the last World Cup.

“It has been a rollercoaster ride but I wouldn’t have it any other way because the last World Cup we went into the semi-final undefeated and Australia pipped us. I really believe we have yet to play our best game, which is a huge threat to oppositions.”

If Pakistan will be looking to ride the momentum of their great escape from the group, New Zealand will be relying on a tried and tested philosophy as they seek to reach the final against India or England.

The Black Caps have long been a force in white-ball cricket but they have failed to turn that into world titles despite coming agonisingly close in recent years, including falling at the final hurdle to Australia last year.

It was their best showing in a T20 World Cup and followed hard on the heels of final defeats in the 50-over World Cup in both 2015 and 2019.

“We’re just focusing on one game at a time as we have done throughout this tournament,” said captain Kane Williamson. “And now we’re in a semi-final, which is a nice place to be, but it’s about cricket and the type of cricket we want to commit to and keep playing and that will be our focus.”

For some, the match has echoes of the 1992 50-overs World Cup in Australia, where Pakistan scraped into the last four before beating tournament favourites New Zealand in the semis and England in the final.

Williamson was reluctant to ascribe to one of Pakistan’s finest hours in white ball cricket as being any sort of precedent.

“I was two,” he deadpanned. “There’s also a rich cricketing history in New Zealand. A number of great moments.”

Blue skies are forecast for the Sydney Cricket Ground on Wednesday for what could be an intriguing contrast between two well-balanced teams boasting some fine pace bowling.

The Sydney wicket has been favourable to batsmen so far and it should prove to be so again.

But the struggles of captain Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan’s opening partnership is a headache for Pakistan with just one half century stand between them in four games. Rizwan has scored 103 runs in five innings, while Babar had four single-digit scores before he struggled to make 25 against Bangladesh.

‘BABAR DUE SOMETHING SPECIAL’

Former Australia opener Hayden, however, is backing Babar to produce something special in the knockout stages.

“Don’t be surprised whatsoever if you see some fireworks because very special players don’t often stay down for long,” Hayden said.

“There’s no question Babar has been under some adversity but that will only make him an even greater player … you can’t keep punching out hundreds and fifties and strike-rates of 140 plus, there’s got to be a lull.

“We know with the weather that when there’s a lull, there’s often a storm that follows, so look out rest of the world because I think we’re about to see something very special from Babar.”

With Babar and his longtime opening partner Rizwan both struggling for runs, Hayden said he had been impressed with the way the Pakistan middle order had stood up.

He particularly picked out Mohammad Haris, who came into the Pakistan team as a mid-tournament injury replacement and has scored 59 runs in two innings.

“One of the things about this kind of tournament is that pretty much the entire cricketing community is fatigued to some degree,” Hayden added.

“So to have a young, fresh face with nothing to lose, nothing really to gain, but just play with great freedom has been a wonderful expression for him personally but also for team Pakistan.”

Hayden thought the additional prospect of pacemen Shaheen Afridi, Naseem Shah, Mohammad Wasim and Haris Rauf firing at the Sydney Cricket Ground gave Pakistan every chance of getting to the final, despite their poor start to the tournament.

“The way the middle order has stepped up to the plate has been excellent and those fast bowlers, man, there’s four of them and they come at great pace,” he said.

But Hayden said Pakistan were wary of the Black Caps.

“They got 200 on this particular wicket against Australia… New Zealand have some really destructive players and they can put you under pressure with the bat,” he said. “They’ve also got a terrific, well-balanced bowling attack.

“Like New Zealand sport in general, they really punch above their weight, they believe they can win this tournament and they have the potential to do that. So lots of threats to our camp, no question.”

Williamson played down any significance in his team making 200-3 on the Sydney wicket, noting that they only managed 167-7 against Sri Lanka when they returned to the ground later in the tournament.

“The first game we played here the wicket was a very good one and then the second time it had changed,” he said. “We’ll just be looking to focus on our cricket really and the plans that we are looking to execute and make sure we adjust to the conditions and try and play smart.”

Williamson said the results counted for little when it came to the knockouts.

“Finals sport can go any way,” he said. “Both teams match up pretty well, there’s some similar trends, we’ve both been playing some good cricket. They’ve got an outstanding pace attack. “Some really experienced players throughout their side, match winners, so real strength in their team.”

Published in Dawn, November 9th, 2022

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