Cricket World Cup 2019: Haris Sohail, Babar Azam fifties help Pakistan to 308 vs South Africa at Lord’s
Haris Sohail raises his bat after crossing 50 at Lord's. © AFP

LONDON: On a fresh pitch Lord’s pitch wearing the slightest tinge of green, Pakistan backed their captain Sarfaraz Ahmed‘s decision to bat against South Africa in the first match of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 at cricket’s spiritual home.

In an innings of fits and starts, the batting unit combined to put up 308/7 in 50 overs against the backdrop of a distinctly green crowd chanting ‘Pakistan, Pakistan‘ and ‘Pakistan Zindabad‘ all through the innings.

Fakhar Zaman and Imam-ul-Haq began well with an opening stand of 81, then fell for identical scores of 44 to Imran Tahir. Mohammed Hafeez kept sweeping like it was a shot going out of business. The man who looked the likeliest to hold it all together, Babar Azam, eased to 69 before he picked out the cover sweeper. Cornered tigers, anyone?

Haris Sohail got a game in place of the out-of-form Shoaib Malik – is his ODI career over? – and cracked 89 from 59 balls while fashioning the second-fastest half-century partnership of the tournament with Imad Wasim.

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A busy start from the Pakistan openers raised visions of 330. Fakhar’s eyes lit up at the sight of room, hammering Kagiso Rabada into the legside in the third over and lacing him backward of point during the fifth. In Ngidi’s second over, Imam forward-pressed three delightful fours into the offside, between cover and point. Ngini was forced to bowl short as a result of those shots and Fakhar swung him for six over square leg. Six overs, Pakistan 44 for none.

On came Chris Morris, and Imam pushed him past mid-off to raise Pakistan’s 50. Then he lunged forward and edged between Quinton de Kock and Hashim Amla for four more.

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On 31, Fakhar pulled Morris out to deep midwicket where Imran Tahir dived forward and celebrated the catch animatedly. But when replays showed the ball had hit the grass just as he tried to his fingers under it, the Pakistan fans roared. Some of them booed Tahir, born in Pakistan. The very next ball, Fakhar cut Morris between Tahir and fine leg for four.

As it panned out, Tahir struck the first blow when he had Fakhar (44) mistiming a lap-sweep to Amla at slip in his first over. Pakistan’s run rate dipped after that wicket, and when Tahir held a low return catch to send back Imam (44) in his fourth over, the innings dipped further.That catch off Imam made Tahir the leading South Africa bowler in World Cup history with 39, surpassing Allan Donald’s mark of 38.

Babar Azam World Cup
Babar Azam bats during his 69 from 80 balls. (Image: Twitter/@TheRealPCB)

Babar kept his cool, displaying assured footwork and quick hands to perforate the gaps in the field and hit the occasional eye-catching boundary, most strikingly a driven four off Ngidi. Hafeez swept Tahir for six, repeated the shot next ball and survived a review for lbw and then fell for 20 to Aiden Markram’s offspin when he tried another sweep and was given lbw.

Something had to give, and it duly came when Pakistan scored 22 runs in two overs, with Babar clipping Markram superbly and Sohail driving Rabada down the ground for four and slashing over cover-point for six. Attempting to emulate this type of free-stroking batting, Babar made room to drive Andile Phehlukwayo and was caught on the boundary.

Haris didn’t notice. He ramped Morris for four to third man to raise his fifty in 38 balls, then trained his aggression towards Phehlukwayo, whom he lofted over mid-off for six and swiped to fine leg for four. Ngidi was hacked for six. Imad walked into his first ball faced and thumped it past extra cover for four, setting in flow a cameo of 23 from 15 balls in a stand of 71 in 40 deliveries.

Needing 12 from the last over for his third ODI century, Sohail got on strike with four balls left. He got a single, then off the penultimate ball top-edged Ngidi and was out.

Since he was recalled to Pakistan’s ODI squad for the tour of New Zealand in January 2018 – his first chance since May World Cup – Sohail averages 53.58.

Brief scores: Pakistan 308/7 in 50 overs (Sohail 89, Babar 69) vs South Africa