Even the rabid fanatic of Pakistan cricket would not have dreamt of such a cake-walk for his side in the World Cup 1999 semi-final against New Zealand. At Old Trafford today, the Pakistan openers Saeed Anwar and Wajahatullah Wasti ridiculed the 'line and length' theory of the Kiwis as their team chased a victory target of 242.
While Anwar made his appointment with his second successive century in this championship, Wasti missed the magic figure which he would have richly deserved. The pair flayed the attack for 194 runs in 40.3 overs before Wasti came up with a tired-looking off-drive only to be caught by Stephen Fleming off Chris Cairns.
Wasti made 84 off 123 balls with seven fours and a six. That was the lone success for New Zealand today. There is nothing wrong in concentrating on "line and length" method. In fact that is being hailed as the universally accepted trend in One-Day cricket. But then, when applied against two artisitically brilliant batsmen, it might not work at all. Certain degree of variety alone would bring the desired result against such batsmanship.
Unfortunately, New Zealand did not possess that quality and paid heavily today. Anwar who recorded his 17th One-Day century, is famous for his rare ability to mix caution with aggression to frustrate even a reputed attack. Anwar makes his blade speak with a delicate roll of the wrist. And, on rosy occasions, he would even make it explode with the ball racing to the mid-wicket or long-on fence.
Precisely he can be brutal when it comes to dealing with bad balls. In general, he is happy with his flowing off-side strokes and gentle flicks to the on. Nothing on his legs escapes without punishment. Wasti's batting must be ranked as purists' delight. His technique is straight from the Book and even in One-Day atmosphere he looks very much a Test batsman. He has the all the adorable qualities to shine at both versions of the game.
Today's effort was a great tribute to his skill. The pairs' joint effort turned out to be the highest for the first wicket in World Cup history. After Wasti's exit , Ijaz Ahmed joined Anwar. Ijaz , another gifted batsman, is yet to regain his touch in this championship. Today he got little or no scope to do that as runs needed on his arrival was very very little. Even as the pair progressed towards the destination the Pakistan spectators could not control their emotion and ran on to the field stopping the proceedings for a while with the score of 236 for one in 46.3 overs.
When play resumed it was all over in another six balls and the entire arena belonged to the jubilant Pakistan supporters . In fact the judicious fashion in which New Zealand batted after winning the toss hardly suggested that it would turn out to be an one-sided affair. Stepen Fleming (41), Roger Twose (46) and Chris Cairns (44) were competent enough to give New Zealand a total of 241 for seven in 50 overs.
The feature of the Pakistan attack was the stunning manner in which Shoiab Aktar yorked Fleming, then mesmerised Vchris Harris with a slower ball. His other vitim was Twose who was caught in a spectacular fashion by Ijaz Ahmed at point. It was a lusty drive and Ijaz threw himself to his right and came up with the ball inches from the ground. Pakistan bowlers did live upto their reputation as a formidable force.
But then, 17 wides and 12 no balls was certainly not expected from this group of highly talented men. None would understand the negetive aspect of this dangerous trend better and quicker than Wasim Akram. Things might be sorted out so as to go to Lord's on June 20 with greater confidence. Akramand his soldiers are capable of doing that. After all their long cherished dream has been the World Cup.