On Saturday night in the second T20 International at Gaddafi Stadium Lahore, Pakistan’s cricket team captain Babar Azam played an exceptional innings, scoring his ninth T20 century, which places him second on the list behind Chris Gayle. His efforts, along with Mohammad Rizwan’s half-century and Iftikhar Ahmed’s unbeaten 33 off 19 balls, propelled Pakistan to a total of 192, which was well above average.
Babar and Rizwan made up for their lackluster performance in the previous match with a remarkable opening partnership, scoring at a rate of around ten runs per over during their 99-run stand. Although New Zealand picked up a cluster of wickets after that, Babar and Iftikhar’s unbeaten partnership of 87 runs in 43 balls kept Pakistan in control.
New Zealand put up a better fight in response, with Mark Chapman’s stylish half-century as the highlight of their innings. Despite his valiant efforts, Haris Rauf’s excellent bowling, which earned him figures of 4 for 27, made it difficult for New Zealand to stage a comeback. Shaheen Afridi and Zaman Khan finished off the match, and even though Chapman hit a magnificent six over cover, Pakistan won by 38 runs without much trouble.
As was the case yesterday, there was a wobble midway through the Pakistan innings, and just like yesterday, it was Matt Henry-inspired. After Pakistan’s crisp start, Henry sent down a priceless 11th over that saw one run scored and two wickets fall. Rizwan was the first to go, miscuing a slog soon after he brought up his half-century. Then, for the second successive game, Henry found himself on a hat-trick, forcing Fakhar Zaman to chop one back onto his stumps. Saim Ayub kept his first ball out to deny the fast bowler consecutive hat-tricks, but New Zealand were suddenly on top.
For Ayub lasted just one more ball before Rachin Ravindra struck to send him packing, drawing him into holing out at deep midwicket. Pakistan couldn’t find a way to stanch the bleeding at this point as Imad Wasim feathered Jimmy Neesham through to the keeper in the following over. Pakistan had lost four wickets for six runs over two overs, and New Zealand had stormed back into the game.
Having slowed down somewhat after the powerplay, as Babar is wont to do, not even his most ardent backers entertained notions of a ninth T20 hundred for the Pakistan captain. With three overs to go, Babar was still 35 runs away, but two sixes and a four of Henry’s final over saw him climb into the 80s. A canny penultimate over from Ben Lister though, with Babar deprived of the strike, looked to have dashed those hopes once more. He was still 15 away with the innings’ final four balls to go, and Gaddafi began to dream once more.
By the time Neesham was powered back over mid-off for six and Babar crept into the 90s, the crowd had been whipped up into a fervour. Seven runs away with two balls to go, he thumped another over mid-off for four to take it down to the wire. And, almost as if it were scripted, he would save his best shot for last, a glorious drive over cover that sailed to the boundary and brought up the most unlikely of his nine hundreds. He rocked back and let out a roar, and Lahore roared with him.
Rauf razes through middle order
If Chapman had someone to keep him company at the other end, New Zealand would have found themselves in with a real shot, but Rauf guaranteed that wouldn’t be possible. After a fledgling third wicket stand with Will Young where a 95-metre Chapman six off Shadab Khan was the highlight, Babar turned to Rauf for the wicket he wanted.
Pakistan’s fastest bowler answered his captain’s call, and then some. With his fourth ball back, he beat Young for pace, forcing him to hole out to Shadab Khan to set New Zealand back, but he was only getting started. He topped and tailed his third over with two more wickets. First, Daryl Mitchell found the speed too hot to handle, before he sent in a bouncer to new man Neesham who could only fend it to Shaheen Afridi at mid-off. And there was no escape for Rachin Ravindra from Rauf’s wiles either, as the young allrounder lobbed an offcutter straight to deep midwicket to effectively end New Zealand’s resistance.