Pakistan at present are reckoned as ‘unpredictables’, as their cricket fortunes have oscillated between ordinary cricket and sparks of brilliance. And in their last group stage encounter against Sri Lanka at Cardiff, they showed why they are tagged as unpredictables. When Fahim Ashraf was run-out in the 30th over, Pakistan were precariously placed at 162 for seven while chasing a target of 237. But Mohammad Amir and Sarfraz Ahmed stitched a match-winning partnership of 75 runs between them to carry the team over the line with three wickets to spare. It was a do-or-die game for both the teams and the winner would advance to the semi-finals of the tournament.
With just Sarfraz Ahmed as the only recognisable batsman at the crease, Pakistan needed something outstanding to emerge victorious from such a delicate position. Sri Lankan bowlers were looking unstoppable and got rid of Pakistan’s middle-order quickly. Sarfraz Ahmed needed to play out most of the overs as one thing was for sure. If Pakistan play 50 overs, they’ll certainly win the game. Sarfraz didn’t have enough options available too, with most of the batsmen dismissed, he only had Mohammad Amir, Junaid Khan and Hasan Ali to bat next. Amir can bat, he boasts of a highest One-Day International (ODI) score of an unbeaten 73 and Pakistan wanted him to play an emphatic knock once again. His primary role was to accompany Sarfraz and let him take most of the strike.
Pakistan were 110 for 4 in the 20th over when Sarfraz Ahmed took guard at Cardiff. They needed 127 more runs to win with the required run-rate not being a matter of concern. Sri Lankan bowlers were on a role after scalping three quick wickets in the middle. When bowlers are doing such a fantastic job, it automatically gives the fielding captain the liberty to attack. And Angelo Mathews rightly did so. He had two slips in place and his bowlers were responding to it.
Both the batsmen showed immense temperament in not losing a further wicket. But few overs later, in the 25th over, to be precise, Lasith Malinga got the better of Shoaib Malik and put the opposition on the back foot. Pakistan have lost half the batting line-up by now but Sarfraz Ahmed looked determined on 15 at the other end. Imad Wasim walked in but couldn’t stay for long as Nuwan Pradeep induced an outside edge to pick the sixth Pakistani wicket. The pressure increased on Sarfraz as he was running out of partners.
Fahim Ashraf looked composed but was extremely unfortunate to have been run out at such crucial juncture. Pakistan were now seven wickets down, left with just one recognised batsman at the crease and 75 more runs needed to win. Sarfraz needed to garner most of the runs and save his won wicket along with hiding the tail. But Amir stepped up and eased most of the pressure off Sarfraz Ahmed’s shoulder. Although Sarfraz was lucky to get two reprieves off Lasith Malinga’s bowling and Sri Lanka have only themselves to blame for that.
After getting two reprieves, Sarfraz Ahmed was astute enough to not give away any more opportunity to the opposition and capitalise on the chances given. Sarfraz Ahmed and Mohammad Amir gelled well to rescue the Pakistani ship from troubled waters. Sarfraz kept rotating the strike further keeping the required run-rate under check. He didn’t show any kind of hurry and was smart enough in bidding his time at the crease. Many a time, a batsman doesn’t trust the tail-ender, which often puts additional pressure on him. But Sarfraz showed immense faith in Amir and it eventually paid off as the southpaw contributed some golden runs with the bat.
Sarfraz respected the good deliveries and pounced on the loose ones. He reached his half-century and Pakistan can now see a scintillating victory well under their grasp. And when four runs were needed, he didn’t opt for a rash stroke and smartly guided the ball towards third man boundary. Pakistan won the game by three wickets and Sarfraz Ahmed scripted history with a captain’s knock. Before this, no Pakistani skipper has ever scored 50 above in a successful run-chase in ICC ODI tournaments. Sarfraz Ahmed’s unbeaten knock of 61 saw him being the first on that list. Sarfraz Ahmed played a captain’s innings, which came at the perfect time. This was by far not the cleanest of the knocks by Sarfraz, it had few hiccups but got the job done. From being in a precarious situation at one stage, Pakistan won the game convincingly, in the end, riding on the partnership between Sarfraz and Amir.
Pakistan still have a number of issues to be addressed, their batting has to step up before it’s too late in the tournament. Their bowling has been in tremendous form and fared well in the tournament so far, the only chink in their armour lies in batting. Pakistan now play England in the first semi-final on Wednesday. Sarfraz Ahmed will be oozing with confidence after an emphatic knock, which will only help him better his game.