If you could write up a template Pakistan win in men’s T20Is right now, it would read something like this: Shaheen Shah Afridi taking a wicket in the first over, pacers doing well in the middle overs in their enforcing roles, Shadab Khan and another spinner keeping things tight, Haris Rauf controlling things at the death, Muhammad Rizwan and Babar Azam putting up a marathon (sometimes at the pace of one) partnership, and then rest of the batters just doing enough in the back-end.
Almost every one of those boxes were ticked on Wednesday at the Sydney Cricket Ground, as Pakistan extended their stay in Australia till the very end after looking like one of the earliest teams whose fate was sealed in the Super 12 stage of the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2022.
To make the win even sweeter, the said Rizwan-Babar partnership came at such a pace that New Zealand’s defeat was all but imminent even by the end of the powerplay in the second half. To make their journey even more rollercoaster-ish, Pakistan outdid New Zealand even in the fielding department. To the surprise of not many, the bowling lineup produced yet another brilliant all-round display to lend credence to one of the oldest cliches in the game: batters win you matches, bowlers win you tournaments.
To get to the final after a near-certain early elimination, Pakistan produced their most complete performance yet.
Speaking before the semifinal, Pakistan’s Australian connection Matthew Hayden (team mentor) said, “Shadab actually said something very significant in the dugout the other day when we were playing our last match. He said, ‘Welcome to Pakistan cricket.’ Meaning that on any given day, anything can happen. And on that particular day, when Netherlands beat South Africa, it was a significant moment for us in the tournament and a very, very significant moment for the team in general in reaching that potential.”
Indeed, Pakistan could have easily won the match against India at the MCG to start their campaign. At various points, they were in control, taking a non-template route to a good score and once again largely thanks to their bowling. But they lost that.
Indeed, Pakistan should have won against Zimbabwe, after restricting them to 130. But they lost that.
Then came a steady performance against Netherlands, with nothing much to write home about. (A brief blip in their multiverse of madness but Netherlands will appear in a major twist ending soon.)
Indeed, Pakistan were in all sorts of trouble against the high-flying South Africa while batting first and going down to 43/4 before Shadab Khan played one of the knocks of the tournament. They won that.
Indeed, Pakistan should have been packing their kitbags and suitcases after the Sunday at Adelaide Oval if South Africa – one of the favourites to win the whole thing, let alone reach the semifinals – turned up and performed to their best against Netherlands. But the Europeans had one of their best days ever. Pakistan vs Bangladesh went from a potential dull, pointless affair to a quarterfinal.
Their destiny was back in their hands. No more dependance on any other team. And from the brink, they came alive. (And they did Netherlands a favour too while they were at it).
Any Pakistan side is a dangerous side on their day, but a Pakistan side believing in their destiny, and playing with momentum and a sense of ‘we got this, guys’ is one of the most thrilling sights in modern day cricket. With an SCG crowd mostly draped in green, it was Pakistan who played the best cricket on the night while New Zealand came unstuck at the worst possible time after taking a completely contrasting route to the semifinal, all but sealing their spot on the back of the first powerplay of their first match.
Kane Williamson winning the toss could have been crucial at a venue where batting first was favourable going by what we have seen so far, but it summed up their journey that Pakistan didn’t even need luck on their side with the coin toss to win this semifinal eventually. (They did have some luck with Babar Azam’s dropped catch early on but really, the way things went on the night, they would have likely still won comfortably).
And so, from a situation where they could have easily been watching this all unfold from their homes in Pakistan or a vacation house somewhere, the Pakistan players are off to Melbourne for the big final.
“To be honest, we did not start well, but after the South Africa match we had hope, and after that we grabbed the opportunity, and then we are playing our best cricket. And Alhamdulillah, we will play well in the final,” captain Babar Azam said in the post-match press conference.
Destiny in their hands once again, playing close to their best cricket at the business end, believing this is their year after all. The Pakistan show rolls on Down Under.