Banter spurred Gohar to win it for Pakistan
In the 33rd over of Pakistan's chase, immediately after Saifullah Khan became England's sixth victim, the contest was spiced up by a verbal showdown between the England players and the two batsmen. England's Matthew Fisher got in the act and the target was Zafar Gohar, who had just walked in. England's players were at the receiving end of the invective against India a match ago but this time, chose not to play victim. The umpire then had a long chat with England captain Will Rhodes to defuse the situation.
Gohar, whose day job is a left-arm spinner, showed he could bat too. With Amad Butt, Gohar gave Pakistan the belief that they could pull it off after 142 for 7. Their eighth-wicket stand of 63 guided Pakistan to the final, with a little help from England, according to Gohar. He politely referred to the showdown as "banter", but the pictures suggested something more intense. Gohar, in the post-match press conference, said the incident had spurred them on to never give up on the target.
"The banter gave me more energy and helped me focus better," Gohar said. "Seeing them so aggressive, I did not want to lose the match, and wanted to give them the answer by winning the game."
Moments after Pakistan pulled off a tense chase in the final over, the players from both sides put the incident behind them as they embraced. Gohar said the same set of players were no strangers to each other, with the teams playing each other in tournaments leading to the World Cup. "We are good friends, so nothing serious about it," Gohar assured.
Gohar and Butt showed maturity in rotating the strike because the asking rate didn't demand a boundary off each over. Between them, they hit five fours and a six but they also kept England on their toes by pushing singles. Gohar said the talk in the middle was to bat out 50 overs if needed.
"Our coaching staff had told us to play out all the overs, and we had the ability to help the team win," he said. "I was telling him to bat till the end and build a partnership. Once we started that the pressure was on them, and runs started coming automatically. We did that and we were successful."
That Pakistan made heavy weather of a modest target of 205 was due to the pressure inflicted on themselves due to poor shot selection that reduced them to 57 for 4. The captain Sami Aslam himself put his hand up for not setting a good example, falling lbw trying to sweep the offspinner Rob Sayer, after he had just scored two boundaries.
Pakistan were rescued thanks to the stand between Saud Shakeel and Ameer Hamza and then the Gohar-Butt partnership.
"I played a bad shot under the circumstances. Two to three players played poor shots, but Saud Shakeel covered up for us very well," Aslam said. "Then Zafar Gohar and Amad Butt batted excellently. We were confident till the end and the plan was if we could bat long till the last over then we would win.
"I got out at an important point, and hopefully I will not repeat the same mistake in the final, and help the team to win."
Aslam and Imam-ul-Haq have been Pakistan's in-form pair in this World Cup and the batting has depended largely on the two openers. When asked if the middle order was a concern, Aslam said there was evidence to show that they were capable of filling in when needed. Gohar agreed, saying the team's batting depth could not be underestimated.
"The total of 205 was not big. The run-rate was only four and we knew we could achieve it," Aslam said. "We had a plan in our mind to bat long and keep wickets in hand."
The conditions in the UAE were expected to be similar to that of the subcontinent where the spinners rule, but Aslam felt that on this occasion, teams with good fast-bowling stocks were most likely to succeed.
"The way the wicket has behaved so far, it is supporting the seamers as well," he said. "That is why, apart from us England, South Africa and Australia are playing in the semi-final."
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo