Pakistan today rose from the depths of despair to the elite group of last-four in the World Cup 1999. That naturally drove India out of the championship. This was the most challenging Friday for Pakistan as only a win against Zimbabwe in their last Super Six league match at the Oval would provide them the needed oxygen to be alive. They did accomplish that in grand style to go to the semi-finals with a tally of six points.
Saqlain Mushtaq, the most dreaded off-spinner in both versions of the game, covered himself with glory . He performed the hat-trick to become only the second bowler in the history of World Cup to do so. The other was India's Chaten Sharma who performed a three-in-a-row against New Zealand in the 1987 World Cup. Today Pakistan emerged a 148-run victors. Zimbabwe are still breathing in the Super Six league with five points, and ,their fate would be known on Saturday when India (two points) and New Zealand (3) will clash at Trent Bridge.
"Zimbabwe " is the name which Indian circket would love to forget in a hurry ,but , in reality , "Zimbabwe" would be haunting them for many more years to come. Ironically enough, Zimbabwe would ever remain grateful to India if New Zealand could be defeated on Saturday. For, that would confirm Zimbabwe's semi-final berth. It was Zimbabwe who stunned India in the preliminaries . On that day began India's predicament in this Cup championship and today when Zimbabwe succumbed to the enormous pressure applied by Pakistan , it appeared a cruel joke. Anyway India have to gulp and digest it like a real sport. After all something went wrong somewhere during the intitial stages of this World Cup and India have only themselves to blame.
A victory over New Zealand on Saturday would serve as a great consolation for India, who would thus be finishing with four points. Interestingly enough, if Australia are beaten by South Africa (six points) on Sunday at Headingley they will also finish with four points. But then, here too the doors would be closed for India as they had lost to Australia in the Super Six earlier. As per rules, when two teams share a spot with equal points, the team which had won the league match would get the priority. Precisely, India's name is out of the calculators too. Coming to today's match.
Pakistan rebuilt their image.Wasim Akram regained his pride. For the first time in this championship their top order excelled. The most shining star of them all was the brilliant left-handed opener Saeed Anwar who announced his return to form with a century (103 in 144 balls and 11x4). When Anwar on song things go pretty well for Pakistan. He and Wajahatullah Wasti (40 off 42 balls) gave a brisk 95-run start in 18.5 overs. Thereafter there was no big association ( except a 67 stand between Anwar and Inzamam for the third wicket). However the run-rate was maintained in the range of 5 and 5.5 throughout.
Shahid Afridi belted the attack for 37 off 29 balls with two sixes during the last five overs and Pakistan finished at 271 for nine in 50 overs. The Zimbabweans fielded magnificently today but for which Pakistan would have reached or even crossed the 300-mark. Zimbabwe took a little more time to complete the 50 overs and so they got only 49 overs to chase the target. But it was all over in 40.3 overs.
When Zimbabwe chased, there was hardly a batsman who revealed the needed technique to deal with the superior brand of attack comprising Wasim Akram, Shoiab Akthar, Abdul Razzaq, Azhar Mahmood and Saqlain Mushtaq. It was heady stuff from this 'formidable five' and only the opener Neil Johnson (54 off 94 balls and five fours) commanded respect from the "fives". Saqlain Mushtaq provided a memorable climax by taking the last three wickets in a row ( 6.3-1-16-3).