Pakistan's bad cover version of 1992

Pakistan had to start somewhere. Why not with a bad cover version of their revered 1992 World Cup final victory?

Except for a wounded-looking Derek Pringle and about 78,000 extra spectators, it was all there. Two early wickets, a painfully slow salvage operation, and then firmer consolidation, followed by a cavalier conclusion to post a reasonable tally. In the field, there were new-ball breakthroughs, a pesky middle-order stand that threatened to take the game, then a clatter of wickets to balls delivered with the left arm. The odd bit of umpiring good fortune too.

Most of all, there was a captain doing his very best to ensure the match and the tournament did not slip away. Misbah-ul-Haq spoke of Imran Khan's determination on match eve, and the unflinching belief of the team that overcome a similarly shambolic start to the tournament to prevail. If he did not walk out to bat at No. 3 as Imran did, the loss of two wickets inside the first four overs meant Misbah might as well have.

What followed was cricket's equivalent of a climber hanging onto a ledge by his fingernails, albeit one he had scaled many times before when in a more confident frame of mind. Zimbabwe have not won a World Cup match against a fellow Full Member since 1999, and beaten Pakistan only thrice in 47 ODIs. Yet feelings of impending doom were hard for Misbah's men to avoid in those early overs, when dead bats were all that stood between them and, possibly, terminal tournament failure.

Slowly but surely, Misbah calmed proceedings. Had they been batting second, this was the sort of innings that would have been decried for its tardiness, sucking the momentum and leaving too much for the rest to do. But on a warm Brisbane afternoon, it provided some kind of platform for later acceleration and the assurance that Zimbabwe would have to be pursuing a target that would require more than one handy partnership.

The creeping pressure of the moment can cause rushes of wickets at World Cups in circumstances otherwise inexplicable - just ask Australia and New Zealand about Auckland.

"Absolutely," replied Brendan Taylor when asked whether Zimbabwe could sense Pakistan's anxiety. "We certainly did target this match and we felt half the job was done particularly well, restricting them to 235. But they came out in the first 15 overs and made it pretty difficult for us, bowled some heavy balls and it was difficult to score. But it needed a partnership and unfortunately 30 or 50 partnerships aren't going to get you over the line. It was extremely difficult to comprehend this loss."

It would not have been Pakistan without a few more decisions that rankled. Yasir Shah's absence on a pitch offering sufficient purchase for Sean Williams to spin his flat left-arm orthodox past Umar Akmal and then Shahid Afridi seemed counterintuitive. Somewhere, Shane Warne was no doubt loudly decrying Yasir's marginalisation.

Younis Khan's omission after a wretched run of form made more sense. But the persistence with Akmal as the wicketkeeper and the ignoring of the capable Sarfraz Ahmed - on the grounds that it would weaken the batting - causes more Pakistanis to pull their hair out with each day Akmal drops a chance: there were two tonight.

Nevertheless, Misbah was able to hold his men together, critically coaxing staunch displays out of Mohammad Irfan and Wahab Riaz on a pitch that offered them precious bounce and pace. In this Misbah once more channeled Imran, who had urged Wasim Akram to strive for wickets and not worry too much for economy when he struggled with no balls and wides early in the 1992 event. Irfan actually bowled even better than figures of 4 for 30 indicate, while Wahab provided speed and fire at the right time.

If there was a moment in the match when Pakistan's nerve may have gone, it was when Taylor and Sean Williams skated to a stand of 54 and had the target well within reach. Misbah shuffled his bowlers, trying Irfan, Rahat and Wahab, though troubled by the fact that Afridi's trajectory did not challenge the two set batsmen. Where 23 years ago Wasim had split Allan Lamb and Neil Fairbrother with the unplayable, Riaz winkled out Taylor by the rather less spectacular avenue of a tickle down the leg side.

From there the wickets came regularly enough to ease subcontinental nerves, and each member of the attack bobbed up with important overs to push the equation beyond the reach of a brave but hobbling Elton Chigumbura, who was forced to mount his despairing attempt at a successful chase on a torn quad muscle. Afridi would go wicketless, but his conjuring of a maiden in the 47th over of the innings put critical space between the teams.

"Credit goes to the bowlers, they kept up the pressure," Misbah said. "They kept taking wickets, that's the key in this World Cup even if you're defending a low total, if you have the bowlers who can take wickets at different intervals you can really penetrate and that's what the fast bowlers did today. Irfan started really well and put Zimbabwe under pressure, then the way Wahab bowled in the death overs was key. Shahid Afridi was crucial, especially the 47th over, that was the key."

When the final over elapsed, there was no great rush to the centre of the ground in exultation, no flood of Pakistani flags onto the ground, and nor would there be a trophy. For significance this match may yet prove to be simply the best a struggling Pakistan side could do in a tournament not within their grasp. But it might also come to resemble another match in 1992 - the messy, spiteful and nervy meeting with Australia that would come to be recognised as the start of Imran's victory push. Pakistan had to start somewhere.