The unpredictable Pakistan returned from a precarious situation against Sri Lanka and reserved a berth in the semi-finals of the eighth edition of ICC Champions Trophy. In a virtual quarter-final at Cardiff, Pakistan held on to their nerves and scripted a dramatic win against the stumbling Sri Lankan side. Sri Lanka, after being on the brink of a scintillating victory, gifted the game away in the ultimate stages by dropping crucial catches and misfields. Pakistan now face England in the semifinals whereas India will cross swords with Bangladesh.
Sarfraz Ahmed and Mohammad Amir stitched a crucial and match-winning partnership of 75 runs and carried the team over the line with some magnificent temperament. Amir had a memorable outing, especially with the bat. After an impressive run with the ball, where he scalped two key wickets, Amir contributed 28 crucial runs lower down the order and helped Pakistan in securing a semi-final berth. Amir’s contribution was no less than gold as Pakistan lost most of their batsmen early and were in a delicate position when Amir walked in.
Over the years, Pakistani bowlers were not at all known for their batting unlike other teams but the time has now changed. Most of the contemporary teams have a tail, which can contribute with the bat as well but Pakistan were certainly not among the top ones. In the crunch game against Sri Lanka, they didn’t have a massive target to be chased but losing wickets early on meant their lower order needed to step up.
While chasing 237, Pakistan started off on a brisk note with Azhar Ali and Fakhar Zaman coming out hard with the bat. But a crippling batting collapse saw them being 137 for six after being 74 for no loss. Fahim Ashraf looked good but was unfortunate to have been run-out after a good start. Pakistan needed 75 more runs to win from 121 deliveries when Amir took guard. Not many expected Pakistan to win from that stage as they needed a lot of runs but had a handful of wickets.
Pakistan are not reckoned as good chasers in the game and once again their batting floundered in a pivotal game. Amir and Sarfraz had a huge mountain to climb against the pumped Sri Lankan attack. Amir’s primary role was to negotiate the bowling attack and stay alive at the crease. Amir is very handy with the bat and this was the time to prove it and contribute when his team needed the most. He looked extremely composed at the crease and was clear of what was expected out of him. He not only remained alive but also rotated the strike well to keep the required run-rate under check.
Many a time, a polished batsman will always try and keep most of the strike and try to save the tail-ender, but with Amir that wasn’t the scenario. Sarfraz Ahmed trusted Amir well and didn’t hesitate in exposing him to the Sri Lankan bowlers. Amir played with immense confidence and weathered the storm to sail the Pakistani ship from choppy waters. Lasith Malinga has the bulk of experience in dealing with tail-enders especially in the death overs.
When Sri Lanka were desperately looking for a wicket and in dire need in breaking this partnership, Malinga was brought back into the attack in the 39th over. Many expected Amir to fell prey to Malinga’s persistence but it wasn’t to be. Amir survived, in fact, the recognised batsman Sarfraz Ahmed gave a couple of opportunities, which were not grabbed by the Sri Lankan fielders. The wily right-arm pacer lived up to his reputation and created a couple of opportunities but Sri Lanka didn’t manage to capitalise on it and gave Sarfraz Ahmed two crucial reprieves.
One thing was certain, if Pakistan played out the 50 overs, they would in all likeliness win this game. There wasn’t any need of playing a risky stroke and three to four singles in an over would have got the job done. Sarfraz and Amir did the required and in the course also scripted history. The 75-run partnership between them is now the highest eighth wicket partnership in the history of ICC Champions Trophy. Amir remained unbeaten on 28 as Safraz Ahmed hit the winning runs. This was not Amir’s finest ODI innings by far as he boasts the highest score of an unbeaten 73 against New Zealand at Abu Dhabi in another one-day thriller eight years ago, but it was certainly special and important from Pakistan’s point of view.
It turned out to be a big and memorable day for Amir. At first, he got the better of a well set Niroshan Dickwella and then cleaned up Angelo Mathews. He then assisted his skipper in snatching an implausible victory from imminent jaws of defeat with the bat. Sarfraz Ahmed also praised Amir for his outing in the post-match presentation, which was composed and brimming with temperament. Amir’s contribution will certainly get overshadowed by Sarfraz Ahmed’s innings but the southpaw’s contribution was equally important and was no less than gold. As of now, Pakistan have given themselves a solid chance in the semifinal and will play England on Wednesday.