Babar Azam’s unbeaten 101 runs off 127 balls along with a scintillating spell from 19-year-old Shaheen Afridi shaped the game perfectly for Pakistan as the managed to upstage a side which was unbeaten in the tournament so far – New Zealand by six wickets at Edgbaston in Birmingham. With this win, Pakistan are not only alive in the tournament but seem to be living the 1992 dream virtually.
The toss was delayed due to a wet outfield. It wasn't just today, even yesterday, heavy showers had played its part. Yet, surprisingly, New Zealand elected to bat on a soft wicket. The effects of it were soon to be seen. With not the most conducive conditions for run-making on offer, it was coupled by some fine bowling by Pakistan's pace trio. Shaheen Afridi, in specific, was extremely effective with his nagging line and assorted skills. In his first 8 overs, he had conceded only 13 runs, bowled three maidens and picked three wickets.
With ample damage in the first half of New Zealand's innings and a low scoring rate, Sarfraz Ahmed could control the game play. Neesham and de Grandhomme, however, were willing to play to his game. On a tired track, even the tweakers - Mohammad Hafeez and Shadab Khan - had their say. Nonetheless, the New Zealand duo ground it out till the 41st over, adding 72 runs to their alliance till that point. More importantly, both the batsmen had started working the ball around more frequently. En route, Neesham even brought up his sixth half-century, possibly even his finest.
Neesham’s effort along with Colin de Grandhomme helped New Zealand to finish at a competitive total of 237 runs on the board.
Chasing 238 on a tricky Edgbaston pitch which offered vicious turn, Azam and Sohail showed intent, temperament and resolve while batting in Pakistan's must-win game.
They raised a 126-run stand for the fourth wicket after Mohammed Hafeez's dismissal off a part-time spinner, yet again, raised eyebrows and Mitchell Santner looked almost unplayable.
The situation demanded restraint and Hafeez was set but he threw away his wicket while trying to attack Kane Williamson.
This was after Fakhar Zaman was done in by Trent Boult and Imam ul Haq became a victim of Lockie Ferguson.
Taking the attack by the scruff of its neck, Azam shifted the gears after completing his half-century and hit some glorious shots off Williamson and Boult to keep the required run-rate under check.
The 24-year-old completed his century, 10th in ODIs, with a single of Lockie Ferguson off. His knock, coming off 127 balls, was embellished with 11 shots to the fence.
Sohail provided superb support from the other end before running himself out. Only two runs were required at that time. Williamson tried all the tricks in his bag but Pakistan overhauled the target with five balls to spare.
With this win, Pakistan have now moved up to number six in the table with seven points from as many games. They now need to win their last two games against Afghanistan and Bangladesh to hope for semifinal qualification.