PakvsWXI: One victory down, will we be able to conquer the other two?
After eight long years, international cricket came home and we couldn’t be happier. Lahore was abuzz and cricket fans could be seen grinning from ear to ear, ready to cheer their team on.
Fuelled by uncharacteristic silence and desertion, Gaddafi Stadium has portrayed a picture of despair more often than not for almost a decade. But much to the delight of the fans, it has finally sprung to life once again.
A sea of green flocked towards the stadium well before time, as people queued up outside the stadium eager to get in for the first Independence Cup match between Pakistan and the World XI team.
A quick glance at the faces of the audience would make one understand what this meant to cricket fans. The spark in their eyes and the vigorous chants were the politest, yet the most meaningful manner to convey what Pakistan cricket had been deprived of due to the scarcity of international cricket in the country.
The action begins
The stage was set and Morne Morkel was ready to deliver. The lanky fast-bowler from South Africa has a knack of troubling batsmen with his pace and bounce, but facing him on the other side was Fakhar Zaman. Zaman came into the game by a match-winning century against India in the final of the ICC Champions Trophy 2017.
There was little doubt about the former navy man’s aggressive approach and the first two balls proved exactly that. The first one was inside edged, down to the fine leg boundary and the next one was spanked through the offside, both yielding boundaries. Although Zaman’s stay at the wicket lasted only four balls, but cricket in Pakistan was up and running with this eventful start.
Normally, being clinical over the course of a match is a term you won’t associate with Pakistan but this was a complete performance. Right from the outset, Pakistan remained the dominant force in every department of the game.
Pakistan’s batting exploits led Babar Azam to score 86 runs. His innings were so remarkable that every shot came off the middle of his bat, which showed us once again why he is one of the most highly rated young batsmen in Pakistan. Handy cameos from Shoaib Malik and Imad Wasim towards the back end of the innings, after a little stutter, ensured that Pakistan remained on the top by posting 197 on the board.
Pakistan’s bowling attack kept a check on the match proceedings and never allowed the batsmen an upper hand since wickets were being taken at usual intervals. Rumman Raees had reasons to smile as he picked up the prized scalps of Tamim Iqbal and Hashim Amla in the same over. Shadab Khan’s eye-catching leg-spin bowling along with Sohail Khan’s skilful and accurate spell yielded the duo couple of wickets each.
A dive by Raees at short fine leg that prevented a boundary received a resounding applause from the massive crowd. But this was not the only instance of Pakistan’s brilliant fielding throughout the match. An incredible aspect of Pakistan’s game was their superb fielding which backed their bowling up. The bowling is always crucial, especially in the shortest format of cricket.
The world XI team had a difficult time on the field, as one would expect, bearing in mind that it is not easy to acclimatise to the conditions straightaway, especially with a squad which has never played together.
Morkel did provide an early breakthrough, but on a pitch which was conducive for batting and some wavered bowling, Pakistan managed to put up a massive total.
They blew a chance to restrict Pakistan to fewer than 180 runs by not capitalising on a little spell in the second half of their bowling. Conceding 36 in the final two overs turned the target into a stiff task.
There were some sparks of brilliance by Amla, Faf du Plessis and Darren Sammy in the batting department. But all throughout, it was a batting effort which lacked momentum and never really challenged Pakistan enough, which is never helpful when chasing a score around the 200 mark.
Perhaps one of the high points of the match was Pakistan’s 12th man, Usman Shinwari, taking a spectacular one-handed catch behind the fence.
It was a day where Sammy showed us a glimpse of his athleticism despite the humidity by taking a good low catch of Ahmed Shehzad. Thisara Perera’s subdued celebration after dismissing Sarfraz Ahmed made us wonder whether that infamous drop catch in the Champions Trophy match was still fresh in his mind.
Saved the best for last
Fittingly, the match’s final over, despite the inevitability, produced perhaps the best moment of the match. After conceding a six on the first ball, Hasan Ali swept Sammy off his feet with a perfectly executed yorker – a picture reminiscent of Pakistan’s fast bowling in the past.
Sammy was helped up by the bowler himself who received well-deserved praise from the batsmen. Ali had a relatively off-day with the ball in hands, but he saved his best for last.
A short while later, Gaddafi Stadium was back to its usual self, but not for long as the action will return today.
May the better team win.
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