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Match Analysis

No chaos, all clinic: Pakistan rediscover their best selves to saunter past New Zealand

Dreams of a 1992 reprise gather steam as Pakistan's trusted template kicks into gear with Babar and Rizwan finding form

Danyal Rasool
Danyal Rasool
09-Nov-2022
Shaheen Shah Afridi bowls to Finn Allen. The rust looks to have long left Afridi, even if it was painfully evident against India and through much of the first half of Pakistan's World Cup campaign. This, really, is the game right here, and Shaheen is sharp enough to understand it. Allen is the most explosive T20I opener in the world; among those who've batted at least 20 times since his debut, no one has a better strike rate than his 165.68 before this game. New Zealand have never lost a match where he has scored 30. He knocked Australia out of their home World Cup in effectively the first ten overs of their campaign.
But coming into this contest, Allen has lost his wicket every 8.73 balls to left-arm quicks, and now he isn't just facing any left-arm quick. Shaheen won't be daunted by being driven first ball for four; he continues to pitch the ball up, gunning for Allen's wicket, match-winner pitted against match-winner before the game can even warm up. The ball is pitched up each of the next two deliveries, beating the New Zealand batter both times. The second time, he's trapped plumb in front. Shaheen is taking first-over wickets again. Suddenly, this is all too familiar.
It is a game Pakistan have played before, often enough to make one lose count, and yet, it is a game Pakistan have waited to play through what has, at times, been a strained World Cup campaign. Not because they beat New Zealand in a World Cup semi-final - again. Not because they seem to have qudrat ka nizam on their side - again. Not because they will play a World Cup final at the MCG - again. It is because this blueprint is exactly what helped this particular Pakistan side produce its most impressive wins over the last year. It is the way this Pakistan side is built to win T20Is. Restrict the opposition to a below-par total with a sensational bowling performance, and hand over to Mohammad Rizwan and Babar Azam. No chaos, all clinic.
Three days after it appeared Pakistan had effectively thrown away the template they had spent the last two years perfecting, it reappeared, in all its splendour, at a buoyant Sydney Cricket Ground, as if it had never gone away.

****

It's a glorious day in Sydney, a light breeze stirring the surface of the Parramatta River, which shimmers and glistens in the warm spring sunshine. It's a great day for a languid evening walk around the city - perhaps along the Harbour Bridge, or one of the many parks dotted about Australia's largest city. But most of the people out on foot have a much more purposeful gait, and they aren't tourists taking in the views over the bridge. They're wearing the resplendent green of Pakistan, and all roads, walking paths and light rails seem to lead to the SCG. Sure, there are a few fans in New Zealand shirts, too, but in truth, it'd be easier to find Waldo.
The contrast between the paths these sides took to Sydney is extreme. It feels like New Zealand arrived in a business suit, laptops open, Powerpoint presentation at the ready. Pakistan dashed in fifteen minutes late, glasses askew, shirt out, probably having forgotten their laptops at home. It's exactly how Pakistan seem to arrive at the back end of any world event, and it's what the legions of fans making their way to the SCG absolutely live for.
New Zealand choose to bat first, an arrangement that has resulted in a win in five of the six previous games at the SCG. But the last person to arrive in a room often ends up taking charge, and Pakistan, at a World Cup party they should by all logic have departed by now, suddenly find themselves in control. Egged on by the parallels of 1992 that catalyse any Pakistan World Cup campaign, the belief that it is destined to happen allows a strange calm to come over this perpetually restless side.
New Zealand are not the type to throw in the towel after an early setback. But the tone Pakistan have set will not ever be unset through the evening as the sun disappears behind the Members' Pavilion, allowing crystal twilight and then the artificial lights to take over. While New Zealand scrap, Pakistan seem to saunter. Deprived of the boundaries they need to put up a total somewhere near par, they find ways to pick up the extra run; they score 21 twos all told, more than anyone has managed in an innings at this World Cup. But having given away only 12 boundaries in 20 overs, Pakistan feel comfortable in the knowledge that they are only allowing New Zealand to feed off scraps.
Pakistan stroll about the SCG with an entitlement that belies the fortuitous path they took here. Haris Rauf runs in for two Powerplay overs, and when someone regularly breaches 150kph, batters will find it tricky, used pitch or not. Shadab Khan inflicts a run-out with a brilliant pick-up and throw. Mohammad Nawaz is turned to against Glenn Phillips, who finds slow left-arm bowling his (relative) Achilles heel. He lasts two balls against it. There's even a swagger to the way Shaheen is bowled out by the 17th over, Babar trusting Naseem Shah to finish off the job at the death. With the ball reversing, New Zealand manage all of one single, two doubles, two byes and one leg-bye. There are no wides and no no-balls all innings. Scraps, indeed.
But this is the bit that Pakistan always do well. Hitherto at this World Cup, it is the handover of the baton to Babar and Rizwan where Pakistan have stumbled. When Trent Boult gets the first ball Babar faces to seam away and take his outside edge, the SCG is jolted back to reality. But Devon Conway puts down a sharp chance, and the SCG dreams once more.
Gone, suddenly, are the jitters of the first five games for this pair. Rizwan begins the innings by slashing Boult through the covers first ball, and he follows up with two more boundaries in the third over. By the end of the powerplay, he has raced to 28 off 17; before tonight, he had the slowest strike rate at this World Cup of all players who had faced at least 100 balls in the Super 12s stage.
Babar, meanwhile, is enjoying a rebirth of his own. He had struggled inelegantly so far, but Pakistan had never once wavered in their conviction that their captain would come good, with mentor Matthew Hayden pushing hard at any suggestion to the contrary on Tuesday. A caress off Lockie Ferguson's first ball snaps him out of that rut, a half-step forward before pure timing lasers the ball past mid-off.
"Rizwan and my plan was to utilize the Powerplay by attacking and putting New Zealand on the back foot," Babar says afterwards. "We were successful on that front. When you chase you have to take risks, Our partnership gave us momentum and we didn't let it snap. We wanted to finish the game off, but when I got out, the way [Mohammad] Haris played was outstanding. The way a youngster like him is having an impact, it doesn't seem he's playing his first World Cup. The way he's showcasing his batting bodes very well for us."
The Powerplay is almost a montage of Babar and Rizwan at their best; a tribute video by a dedicated fan would struggle to improve on it. In five overs, Pakistan have put together 47, their third-best showing at that stage in the last two years. In the Powerplay, Pakistan hit nine fours, one fewer than New Zealand managed all innings.
They are soon bringing up the 100 partnership. They have done this for fun over the past two years, and the last few games suddenly feel like an aberration rather than a decline. The target almost seems irrelevant; this, suddenly, is a celebration. Not just of Pakistan confirming a place in a World Cup final, but also a sense that the last two years were building towards something worthwhile.
Shan Masood knocks off the winning runs, and the SCG, a blaze of glory, allows itself one last singalong as Dil Dil Pakistan reverberates around Sydney. It's been imperfect, uncertain, and fortuitous, and Pakistan, having broken New Zealand hearts, find themselves on their way to Melbourne to play for World Cup glory, potentially against England.
Suddenly, it feels all too familiar.

Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000