by: Atika Mehboob TN Sport Pakistan:
Pakistan’s incredible comeback against New Zealand has kept their hopes alive in the 2023 ICC World Cup. In a match where Pakistan struggled with their bowling, allowing New Zealand to post a formidable total of 401, Fakhar Zaman’s remarkable unbeaten century, along with a strong performance from Babar Azam, kept Pakistan on course with the required DLS asking rate, despite the looming threat of rain. When the rain did arrive, Pakistan was comfortably ahead of the required rate, securing a crucial victory that tied them on points with New Zealand and put a semi-final berth within reach.
Pakistan’s decision to field first, after winning the toss on a flat wicket, raised questions, indicating that they were focused on improving their net run rate as much as on accumulating points. However, as New Zealand’s innings progressed, both goals seemed distant possibilities. Devon Conway and Rachin Ravindra started strongly, and Pakistan, without their two legspinners or Mohammad Nawaz, found themselves relying on Iftikhar Ahmed’s spin in the sixth over.
New Zealand aggressively targeted Ahmed, and it was Haris Rauf who struck first with a short delivery that brushed Conway’s bat on its way to Mohammad Rizwan. This brought Kane Williamson to the crease for only his second appearance in the tournament, and he started as if he had never been away. Both batsmen, with contrasting levels of experience, comfortably negotiated Pakistan’s seemingly ineffective attack, with Babar Azam making changes but struggling to find a breakthrough.
They reached their half-centuries and accelerated towards the century mark, boosted by an 18-run over from Hasan Ali as they neared the 90s. With New Zealand hovering at around 240 for 1, there was no need to slow down in pursuit of individual milestones. Williamson took increasing risks, almost running himself out three times while approaching his century. Meanwhile, Ravindra reached his third World Cup century, born in the city of his parents’ birth.
Williamson fell while attempting to reach his hundred with a straight six, getting caught at long-off, and Ravindra was soon dismissed with a scoop to the midwicket boundary. However, Pakistan’s hopes of stemming the run flow were dashed by Daryl Mitchell and Mark Chapman, along with Glenn Phillips and Mitchell Santner, who all played cameos to help New Zealand breach the 400-run mark against a struggling Pakistani fielding unit.
Pakistan needed everything to go in their favor to have any chance, but the match didn’t start that way. Kane Williamson made a remarkable diving catch, dismissing Abdullah Shafique and giving New Zealand the early advantage.
Yet, it was Fakhar Zaman who rose to the occasion for Pakistan, launching an assault against Trent Boult to make his intentions clear. He set the tone with two fours and a six in Boult’s third over, making it the most expensive over Boult had bowled in this World Cup. Babar Azam also joined in with 16 runs in the next over.
Nonetheless, it was the Fakhar show. He took on Tim Southee and Mitchell Santner as well, and Pakistan had reached 75 runs by the end of the first powerplay. Fakhar reached his half-century with a late cut off Ish Sodhi from 39 balls, and he was just getting started.
Fakhar continued his assault with two sixes off Glenn Phillips, leaving even Kane Williamson struggling to contain him. Before you knew it, Fakhar had smashed his ninth six of the innings off Santner and quickly reached a phenomenal 62-ball century.
When the rain arrived, Pakistan was ten runs ahead according to the DLS method, but the interruption was brief. Upon resumption, Pakistan continued to dominate, reducing the chase to 342 runs off 41 overs, effectively turning it into a T20 game. Williamson turned to Sodhi, who conceded 32 runs in two overs, including two massive sixes from Fakhar that demonstrated his relentless momentum.
As the steady rain returned, Pakistan was significantly ahead, with a 21-run cushion above the required rate. Unfortunately, they were unable to resume play on the wet evening, allowing Pakistan to secure a historic victory. The tale of this victory may continue to be told and embellished if certain results go their way in the coming week.