Pakistan 264 for 6 (Inzamam 60, Miandad 57 *, Watson 2-39) defeated New Zealand 262 for 7 (Crowe 91, Rutherford 50, Akram 2-40, Mushtaq 2-40) by four wickets
They lost three of their first five matches, and may have to lose the fourth one too, when England their bow for 74. Rain saves them there, and gives them an underserved spot, a point that is ultimately important for their progress to the last four of the World Cup.
But don’t take anything from Pakistan for what they did from the start. They defeated Sri Lanka, Australia and New Zealand mentally to reach the semi-finals. And now they are in their first World Cup final, having made a sensational chase to get rid of New Zealand, joint hosts and league table toppers, in their own territory.
They have let go the fourth largest successful pursuit in every World Cup match. Of the three above, two came in more than 60 matches, and the third was against the Associate team, Zimbabwe. And none of the top three chases that came in the knockout match.
It was quite challenging for Pakistan to pursue 263. When Imran Khan and Saleem Malik falls within five balls, their task becomes much more difficult: 123 requires 95 balls, with six goals in hand.
Here it is Inzamam-ul-Haq, all 22, with only 15 ODI behind him, joined Javed Miandad in the fold. Inzamam is not unknown or unproven at this level; he had scored hundreds of consecutive ODIs against Sri Lanka earlier this year. But this is a quiet World Cup for him to date, and this is the semifinals.
For quality players, the semifinals are cricket matches like the others. And Inzamam is clearly a quality player. How else do you score half a century in 31 balls while emitting air as someone walks casually around the neighborhood, occasionally stopping to chew apples?
It wasn’t a six and four explosion on your face. There are times of sublime timing, such as when Inzamam stepped out to Gavin Larsen and sent the ball forward to the midwicket limit with the softest push, and shots that signaled the best long ratings, such as four strokes from Chris Harris whose delivery was only a little short. But above all, that is the round of consciousness, where the gap is and how to find it; for that, his best shot was probably the dancing move over the middle wing of Willie Watson, who landed in a large area, not guarded to the left of the deep square foot and allowed him to run three.
There are some bad bowling too; Harris continued to float the ball wide from the stump when the batsmen advanced toward him, without a sweeper protecting the off-side boundary. Inzamam and Miandad crawled through the off-side pitch once each in successive overs. Dipak Patel, his descendant, continued to bend into the sweeping arc and pull Inzamam despite leaving a large gap between the square foot backward and midwicket deep.
Inzamam, in fact, shows New Zealand’s limited attack for what it is. Their derbblers – Harris, Larsen and Watson – sometimes cannot be beaten during this World Cup, especially on slower pitches in New Zealand, but there are similarities in this attack, and the lack of a truly attacking bowler other than Danny Morrison .
Once Inzamam and Miandad restored the required pace with an 87-run partnership of 63 balls, New Zealand needed a few quick wickets to bring themselves back in the match, and didn’t have the bowling power to do it.
Their fielding could have brought them several wickets. Two straight hits from Harris made Miandad – hit 1 at that stage – and Moin Khan – at 5, with Pakistan needing 16 out of 16 with four wickets in hand – fighting for safety. Replays show both marginally, but clearly, short of their folds. There’s no way square foot referees can provide both, but with technology playing an increasingly influential role at this level, expect video referees to make an immediate appearance.
Who knows what might have happened had Miandad run out of time earlier, with Pakistan needing 177 balls for 161 balls. The impact of Moin’s dismissal is clearer; he was new at this level, but he showed Miandadesque’s calm and intelligence in helping senior men finish the match, and beat up a pair of unusual boundaries, Miandadesque to seal the deal.
That Pakistan needs to rush to such a level at the end is for the rebellion to score their goals through the first two-thirds of their innings, mostly to the struggle of Imran Khan, after promoting himself to No. 3 once again, to penetrate the field, and, sometimes, to hit the ball. It lasted 93 balls, and brought it only 40 times, 12 of which came in two hits.
The same struggle has its roots in the same stage of New Zealand’s new round, after they chose to fight first with gloomy estimates in Mark Greatbatch’s mind, as he had done through this tournament, beaten some six early, before failing to take the slow ball from Aaqib Javed is spinning like a googly. John Wright and No. 3 Andrew Jones struggled to manage ball time, and Ken Rutherford, who struck at No. 5, it takes time to be able to walk, remain goalless for 20 balls, and take 43 balls to reach double numbers.
If not for the form Martin Crowe, who moved his feet with precision and set the ball’s time like a dream since he entered, the New Zealand round could be stopped completely. Mushtaq Ahmed, who had returned 2 for 18 in 10 overs in the league stage meeting between the two sides, fired Jones faster, and gave Rutherford a hot time as well, and with Pakistan’s second legspinner, Iqbal Sikander, started neatly too, New Zealand crawled to 119 for 3 in 34 overs. Getting to 220 looks impossible.
But as if the switch had been clicked, Rutherford suddenly found rhythm, and his feet began to glow against the spinner, giving him a series of limits including a straight six from Sikander. Crowe, as Inzamam would do later in the match, began to punish the smallest mistakes in lines and lengths, swept and pulled the spinner at every opportunity, and whipped Wasim Akram for an extraordinary six from his hip, on square feet. Crowe runs to fifty in 51 balls. Rutherford flew from 17 from 47 balls to 50 from 67, before making a wrong withdrawal from Akram ending their partnership in 107.
New Zealand’s turn has legs now, but their captain’s leg gave way in the 44th, Crowe injured his left hamstring while taking one from Sikander. At 79 then, he would add 12 more to his score, before a mix involving runner, Greatbatch, sent him back in the 47th minute, just after another brutal blow from a near-short shipment had moved him into the 90s.
Crowe’s injury has no direct effect on the morale of New Zealand, with Ian Smith leading the looting of 40 runs from the last 22 balls of their round. But their tactics during Pakistan’s innings did not have the Crowe stamp. Instead of swapping his bowler as Crowe did through this tournament, substitute captain Wright kept his bowler for a long time, refusing to use Jones’ descendants as the sixth choice. With Inzamam new in wrinkles, he delayed the re-introduction of Morrison, who had four overs remaining, and continued to connect with his slow-growing trio.
However, it is difficult to say that this same New Zealand attack, which was changed to a different configuration, can deal with Inzamam in the current mood. Africa might have something to say about that.
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