BIRMINGHAM: Hostility. Fear factor. Control. Wicket-taking ability. Everything a potential ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2019 champion team could wish to possess from a pace attack, Pakistan’s resurgent side have in abundance.
It is little wonder Sarfaraz Ahmed’s outfit are given endless raucous support from their army of fans when they have fast-bowling trio Mohammad Amir, Shaheen Afridi and Wahab Riaz to swoon over.
On a day of glorious sunshine at Headingley, a sea of green banged their drums, blew their horns and generally made a cacophony of noise as improving Pakistan chalked up their third straight victory in the competition with a nail-biting three-wicket win in a cliffhanger of an encounter with Afghanistan.
“It was a great win for us,” Sarfaraz said at the presentation ceremony. “Thank you all the fans, they cheered every ball.”
The Afghans elected to bat after winning the toss and the fever-pitch atmosphere in the stands proceeded to reach a crescendo at the fall of every wicket.
Even close calls were greeted by ear-splitting “ooohhhs” and “ahhhhs” from the Pakistan throng who heavily outnumbered the opposition fans.
The apple of the crowd’s eye on this occasion turned out to be 19-year-old quickie Shaheen, who grabbed the spotlight by picking up 4/47 from his 10 overs.
Wahab provided good back-up with 2/29 from his eight overs while the Afghan batsmen took on Amir at their peril as the third member of the gifted trio of left-armers registered tidy figures of 0/41 from his full compliment of 10 overs.
It is hard to imagine a better three-pronged pace attack in this World Cup and the statistics lend weight to the theory.
Amir has bagged 16 wickets in seven matches at an impressive economy rate of 4.95. The 6-foot-6 Afridi is not far behind in the frugality stakes, having claimed 10 victims at 5.23 while Wahab’s 10 wickets have come at a rate of 6.15.
Afghanistan’s batsmen lasted the full 50 overs for the first time in this competition but their eventual total of 227/9 appeared well below par.
However, it is never wise to predict the predictable when it comes to the Pakistan cricket team, and the rank outsiders were leaping and dancing in delight when Sarfaraz was run out for 18 to leave his side staring defeat in the face at 156/6 and with 10 overs remaining.
The Pakistanis rarely seem to wear the tag of favourites well and it was then a case of cometh the hour, cometh the man as Imad Wasim rode to the rescue with a match-winning 49 not out, the game’s top score.
The turning point came when Asghar Afghan failed to get under a skier at extra cover off Imad and the middle-order batsman made him pay by smashing 18 runs in the same 46th over bowled by skipper Gulbadin Naib.
By the time six runs were needed off the final six balls, victory for Pakistan was pretty much assured.
“We knew it was not an easy target,” said Sarfaraz. “Their bowlers used the conditions very well. Everyone chipped in for us, it was good team work.”
For Afghanistan, it was another close run thing against Pakistan comparable to their heartbreaking last-over, three-wicket defeat against the same team at last year’s Asia Cup.
“We fought really well, the boys gave 100 per cent but in the end we missed an opportunity to win the match,” said a disappointed Gulbadin.
“Credit to Pakistan, they controlled their nerves. We missed out again. You can face a lot of these situations but we are working harder and harder. The matches we have lost, we have improved.
“We didn’t score enough. To win these sort of matches we need someone to get 80, 90, 100.”