Pakistan need to win their last three league games to stay in the race for a spot in the World Cup semi-finals. Though two of these ties—against Afghanistan and Bangladesh—are relatively easy, the first fixture, against New Zealand on Wednesday, will be their biggest hurdle to a top four finish. Mint tells you what to watch out for in this crucial game.
Pakistan finally fielded their A-team in their last game against South Africa at Lord’s. They let go of the experienced Shoaib Malik to bring in Haris Sohail. The left-hander scored a 59-ball 89—solving Pakistan’s strike rate problem in the middle overs and helping the team cross 300. This was his first World Cup game despite his ODI average of 47 being way above 37-year-old Malik’s 34.5. The batting order now looks more potent with wicket-keeper and skipper Sarfaraz Ahmed dropping down to No.7.
Sania Mirza had nothing to do with it
The trashy attack on Malik’s wife, Indian tennis star Sania Mirza, for going out to dinner with some of the players a couple of evenings before the India game, had little to do with Pakistan’s revival. What made the difference was that captain Ahmed and coach Mickey Arthur got their team right. Malik’s a spent force with a dismal career average of 14 in ODIs in England. He should never have been a first choice in the playing XI. It wasn’t just Malik. The replacement of out-of-form Champions Trophy hero Hasan Ali with the tall, pacy Shaheen Afridi added bite to the bowling attack.
The edge in Edgbaston
Pakistan can look forward to plenty of crowd support at Edgbaston, thanks to Birmingham’s large Asian population. The Edgbaston pitch may also help leg-spinner Shadab Khan, who took three South African wickets at Lord’s and could find the Birmingham conditions to his liking. New Zealand haven’t given a great account of themselves at this venue—they beat South Africa thanks to skipper Kane Williamson getting away with a nick en route to a century.
Luck of the Kiwis
Call it luck or handling pressure better, the Kiwis have come out on the winning end of close shaves against Bangladesh, South Africa and the West Indies. The last of these matches, particularly, showed up the vulnerabilities in New Zealand’s bowling, with Carlos Brathwaite single-handedly taking the Windies from 164 for 7 to within five runs of victory. The Kiwi batting, too, looked uncertain in chases below 250 that went down to the wire. The New Zealand graph could swing either way from here.
State of the league
A Pakistan win will keep interest alive in their remaining games. A loss will leave only Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in the running to topple one of the top four in the league. The Birmingham match will also be of special interest to Indian fans. India play two of their last four games here, against England and Bangladesh.
Sumit Chakraberty is the author of 2019 Cricket World Cup Thinking Cap.