Pakistan 164 for 3 (Shafiq 78*, Hafeez 49, Price 2-21) beat Zimbabwe 151 for 7 (39.4 ov) (Ervine 52, Chigumbura 32*, Gul 3-36) by seven wickets (D/L method)
Pakistan made the most of Elton Chigumbura’s generous offer to bat first to secure a seven-wicket victory in a rain-reduced fixture at Pallekele and rubber-stamp their quarter-final place. The dank skies delivered two huge downpours that meant Duckworth-Lewis made its first appearance of the tournament in another one-sided Group A fixture.
With the damp pitch and heavy cloud cover Pallekele resembled an early-spring Headingley and Pakistan’s bowlers thrived in the helpful conditions. They entered the game on the back of a 110-run hammering on the same ground by New Zealand, but rediscovered their focus to reduce Zimbabwe to 157 for 7 when a second rain delay brought a premature end to the innings. Asad Shafiq then helped himself to an unbeaten 78 in his first World Cup match to steer Pakistan to an easy victory.
Shoaib Akhtar was dropped after his shambolic showing in the previous match and, having struggled for new-ball scalps through the tournament, the opening pair of Umar Gul and Abdul Razzaq made three inroads in the first six overs which set the tone for the remainder of the day.
Razzaq, who was flogged for 49 in four overs against New Zealand, landed the key blow in the first over when he had Brendan Taylor caught behind for 5. Taylor would be forgiven for thinking himself unlucky because it was Pakistan’s calamitous wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal who held chance. Kamran had put down an almost identical one off Ross Taylor last Tuesday but here, to the palpable relief of all his team-mates, he made no mistake.
If that was impressive enough, Misbah-ul-Haq’s catch at slip to remove Vusi Sibanda, demonstrated a rare sharpness in the field as he moved swiftly to his right to pluck the sharp chance out the air. With the ball darting around and Gul generating good pace it looked as though Zimbabwe would subside swiftly, but Craig Ervine resisted with a gutsy half-century, finding support from Greg Lamb and later Chigumbura, who made his second-highest score in 19 matches as captain with an unbeaten 32.
Ervine was the most assured of the Zimbabwe players but was gifted a life on 13 when Misbah undid his earlier good work by fluffing a simple chance off Razzaq. The dark clouds had threatened all afternoon and finally let rip in the 28th over with a tropical downpour. On most grounds it would have been enough to end proceedings for the day, but a collection of huge covers and an army of groundstaff combined to get the entire outfield protected and play resumed after 90 minutes.
The delay freshened up an already sprightly surface and Ervine fell five balls after completing his fifty. It left Chigumbura to try and atone for his earlier decision to bat and he was looking in good order when rain returned to close the innings prematurely, setting a modest target of 162 from 38 overs.
Pakistan laboured somewhat early on in a straightforward chase before Shafiq took control. Ahmed Shehzad’s miserable tournament continued when he ran past a flighted Ray Price delivery to fall for 8. He now has a highest score of 13 from five knocks this World Cup which, after starring in Pakistan’s 3-2 series victory in New Zealand that preceded the tournament, is a major disappointment.
Instead it was his Mohammad Hafeez who steadied the early innings with 49. After Hafeez fell, Shahid Afridi promoted himself up the order but his search for batting form continued as he landed a couple of sweeps before missing a cut to give an ecstatic Price his second wicket
Shafiq, in the side head of Umar Akmal, began very quietly and had 5 from 26 deliveries before finding the boundary for the first time. He added 41 from his next 49 balls to bring up a composed half-century and ensure no alarms.
After Afridi’s predictable blow-out Younis Khan partnered Shafiq to guide Pakistan over the line and into the quarter-finals with a 54-run stand. It means Group A’s qualifiers are settled and the ICC can only be thankful Group B has been exciting enough to keep the elongated opening phase interesting.
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