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Pakistan beat New Zealand to increase World Cup pressure on England

The Guardian logo The Guardian 26-06-2019 Ali Martin at Edgbaston
a crowd of people watching a baseball game: Pakistan’s Babar Azam celebrates after scoring a century. © AFP/Getty Images Pakistan’s Babar Azam celebrates after scoring a century.

Pakistan are making a late surge in the direction of the World Cup’s semi-final spots, with the winds of their victorious 1992 campaign possibly behind them once more if the form book is anything to go by.

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In beating New Zealand by six wickets at Edgbaston – a ground that could easily have been transported Lahore or Karachi, such was the atmosphere generated – they have continued a run of results that has so far matched Imran Khan’s Cornered Tigers game for game (including a washout).

And now with seven points in the bag, and games against Afghanistan and Bangladesh to come, Sarfaraz Ahmed’s current generation look as poised as any to pounce should fourth-placed England, currently sitting on eight, fail to chalk up wins from their remaining two fixtures.

Here, as a sea of green supporters roared them on and local seismologists probably stared quizzically at their instruments, it came down to a masterful unbeaten 101 from Babar Azam who, along with a 76-ball 68 from Haris Sohail, chased down the target of 238 with five balls to spare.

Jimmy Neesham’s unbeaten 97 had earlier helped New Zealand post 237 for six, a total that was not undefendable given a slow, capricious surface that had resulted from Birmingham’s recent spell of wet weather.

But Babar transcended these conditions, overcoming the pace of Lockie Ferguson, the swing of Trent Boult and some considerable turn for Mitchell Santner’s left-armers with a frictionless innings of 127 balls and 11 fours via some delightful cover drives.

With Haris, who took the aerial route a couple of times before being run out in the final throes, a stand of 126 was compiled that ultimately broke the back of the chase before Sarfaraz crashed the winning runs through point.

When Neesham pulled the final ball of the first innings into the Hollies Stand for six, it had actually capped a decent fightback from New Zealand, who sat a perilous 83 for five in the 27th over after winning the toss.

Neesham’s highest ODI score, allied with a 71-ball 64 from Colin de Grandhomme in stand of 132, also overcame a huge numerical disadvantage by way of support; Edgbaston had been rocking from the moment Mohammad Amir’s first ball cannoned into Martin Guptill’s stumps .

It was another left-armer who produced the standout spell, however, as Shaheen Shah Afridi the tore through the Kiwi top order. From his 6ft6in frame, this slick 19-year-old located the ideal length to tease nicks behind from Colin Munro (12), Ross Taylor (3) and Tom Latham (1) amid a seven-over burst that cost a mere 11 runs.

Among these strikes came an athletic one-handed catch from Sarfaraz behind the stumps to remove Taylor. While one in the eye for the ‘supporter’ who was filmed calling Sarfaraz a ‘fat pig’ during a recent shopping trip with his family, the captain’s most significant pouch came mid-innings when Kane Williamson edged a flighted leg-break from Shadab Khan behind on 41.

Boult struck early in the chase – Fakhar Zaman caught attempting a typically ambitious swipe – before Ferguson, the rubbery right-armer who has a claim to being the World Cup’s fastest bowler, bounced out Imam-ul-Haq thanks to a superb diving catch by Guptill at point.

But while Ferguson repeatedly beat the outside edge in his initial spell, in Babar Pakistan had a batsman up to the task.

A stand of 66 with Mohammad Hafeez was ended when the man they call The Professor holed out to Williamson’s part-time offies. But, if anything, this breakthrough Santner getting the ball to rag at the other end underlined New Zealand’s error in not selecting a second spinner.

With 11 points to their name, Williamson’s men know a win or a washout against either Australia or England will be enough to make the final four. And Pakistan? When they are in this mood, you wouldn’t bet against them.

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