- Babar Azam’s unbeaten 101 helps Pakistan to crucial six wicket win over unbeaten New Zealand
- He’s eyeing place in the history books with 333 runs at the tournament
They’ll be other centuries scored but it’ll take some knock to beat Babar Azam flawless match-winning score at Edgbaston.
In a match Pakistan had no option but to win to keep alive their ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup hopes, Babar continued his eye-catching form with an unbeaten 101 against New Zealand.
It was his tenth career ODI century, and Pakistan’s first World Cup 100 scored by a non-opening batsman since 1987.
And it was as cultured an innings as you could wish for, a series of aesthetically pleasing strokes puncturing the New Zealand field. Brilliant, brutal and, for Pakistan, incredibly timely.
No wonder he called it his best yet, as he fended off the threat of Trent Boult and Lockie Ferguson’s pace and Mitchell Santner's spin in sure-footed style.
“This is my best innings,” he said.
“The wicket was very difficult and turned a lot in the second half. The plan was to go through to the end and give my 100 per cent. When we started, the plan was to see out Ferguson but when Santner came on, the plan became not to give wickets to him and cover up later when the fast bowlers come on.
“We are confident we are taking match by match, and hopefully we will qualify. We are very focussed on this.”
Sachin Tendulkar famously scored 523 runs for India at the 1996 World Cup aged just 22.
It’s a record 24-year-old Babar, currently on 333 at this tournament, may well be eyeing, with two more group matches to come against Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
He is fifth on the list of all-time under-25 run scorers, level with Brian Lara’s contribution in 1992, and within touching distance of Ricky Ponting’s 354 in 1999 and AB de Villiers 372 in 2007.
Haris Sohail provided the back-up as Pakistan ended New Zealand’s unbeaten run with a six-wicket victory but Babar will rightly steal the headlines.
He was stuck on 99 when he slashed the ball through deep cover, sending the Pakistan crowd to new heights of crazy and embracing Haris, with whom he shared an ultimately decisive 126-run fourth wicket stand.
And captain Sarfaraz Ahmed, who’d earlier fired up his team with some sharp keeping, snaffling three of the Black Caps top five behind the stumps, paid tribute to his young batsman.
“Credit to Babar and Haris, the way they played on this pitch, it’s some of the finest batting I’ve ever seen,” he said.
“It was a great team effort, we bowled well but we knew 240 was not an easy target on this pitch.”
Much has been made of the neat symmetry behind Pakistan’s 2019 campaign and their successful run to the final in 1992, when Imran Khan led the ‘Cornered Tigers’ to a famous win in Australia.
Lost, won, washout, lost, lost, lost, won, they played New Zealand in their seventh game 27 years ago too and won that. And history duly repeated itself in Birmingham.
Their fans, who turned Edgbaston’s stands as green as the verdant outfield, are certainly starting to believe, with Pakistan now heading into their final matches brimming with confidence.
“We're not thinking about 1992, our focus is the next match,” said Sarfaraz. “We are very confident and hopefully we'll do well.
“The crowd is always behind the Pakistan team and we didn’t do well for them in some of our previous matches.”