I have never been a great believer in the occult. After Wednesday, however, that may change. And if Pakistan win the 2019 World Cup, that will change.
Ah telling allyuh, it could only be obeah!
Listen up. There are only a handful of things I know for certain about the 1992 World Cup. I know that it was played in Australia and New Zealand and that England were in the final. I know too that the West Indies were eliminated at the round robin stage, that it was Brian Lara’s first World Cup, that he made 80-something and retired hurt against Imran Khan’s Pakistan, who went on to win the title.
Unsurprisingly, many Pakistan supporters know a lot more about it; they have been pointing to ‘eerie similarities’ between it and the one currently in progress in England and Wales. According to them, the 2019 World Cup is a repeat of the 1992 tournament—at least, as far as Pakistan is concerned.
After England swept South Africa aside in their opening encounter on 30 May, their supporters were cock-a-hoop, certain that 2019 was their year.
Pakistan, in contrast, were embarrassingly blown away by the West Indies in their opener on 31 May. But as the tournament progressed, they shot down Eoin Morgan’s high-flying England and then stopped Kane Williamson’s steam-rolling New Zealand juggernaut in its tracks.
The upshot is that their supporters have grown so increasingly confident that their team will do exactly what they did in 1992 and win the World Cup that now they are even forgetting to add insha’allah, de rigueur in the home country.
Who can blame them? The resemblance between today and 27 years ago is truly uncanny.
It starts with the format, in which everyone plays everyone else, and includes the use of two white balls instead of one.
But for me, the truly eye-opening bits are these: in both tournaments, Pakistan lost their opening game to WI and then posted the exact win/loss sequence right up to their seventh game, Match 33 this year, Match 34 in 1992, against, you guessed it, a hitherto unbeaten New Zealand.
And, for good measure, on the way to game seven, they collected one point from a washout—in game three.
If dat ent obeah, then is voodoo, santeria or some kina haram ting. It certainly doh look halal to me!
It have more, eh. Inzamam-ul-Haq play fuh Pakistan in ’92; Imam-ul-Haq open fuh dem this year. But if ah tell allyuh everyting, allyuh eh go read the story what I get all dat information from. And is a really good story, even if yuh doh believe in obeah.
So let’s talk about Wednesday’s upset, the third big one of 2019 but not the biggest.
Undermined by fiery powerplay spells by Mohammad Amir (10-0-67-1) and Shaheen Afridi (10-3-28-3), New Zealand staggered to 83 for 5 in over #27. That they recovered to reach a defendable 237 was due in part to Williamson’s steady 41 off 69 balls but largely to the sensible approach of the sixth-wicket pair of Jimmy Neesham (97* off 112, 5 x 4, 3 x 6) and Colin de Grandhomme (64 off 71, 6 x 4, 1 x 6).
Typically, de Grandhomme is one of New Zealand’s six-hitters. On Wednesday, however, he knew his team needed him to stay and bat. And—Andre Russell, please note— he did—until he took a chance on a risky second run and was found short of his ground.
Neesham stayed to the end, not afraid to have a go but never looking as if he was having a pre-meditated voop.
Here is the New Zealand captain explaining what the pair were probably thinking:
“Thought if we get 230-250, there was a chance. And there was but they soaked up the pressure and played really nicely.”
That “they” refers in fact to the Pakistani heroes. But it could just as easily have been a reference to his own two batsmen.
Set 238 for a hugely important victory, Pakistan lost both openers to be 44 for 2. But what followed was, according to ESPNcricinfo, “[a] mature chase, shepherded by a young man with a head far wiser than his 24 years would suggest.”
First, the experienced Mohammad Hafeez (32 off 50, 5 x 4,) and then the 30-year-old left-hander Haris Sohail (68 off 76, 5 x 4, 2 x 6), in only his second outing of this tournament, combined with Man-of-the-Match Babar Azam to see their team home with five balls to spare.
Well, almost. Sohail, too, was dismissed—Carlos Brathwaite, please note—not going for glory but via the run-out route, thanks to a fine Martin Guptill intervention.
Babar’s tenth ODI century (101 off 127, 11 x 4) was the bedrock on which his side rose to the occasion. He never seemed in a hurry or bothered by the required run-rate. When he got bad balls, he capitalised; when he got good balls, he was content to keep them out or let them go.
Williamson used eight bowlers—Jason Holder, please note—as he sought to find the right poison for these stubborn Pakistani pests. But Babar’s sole concern appeared to be making sure that his side built a platform from which, with wickets in hand, they could launch an assault on the modest target. In the event, all they needed from the last 20 overs was 110.
Babar himself revealed where the WI so often go wrong, mentioning the word ‘plan’—Floyd Reifer, please note—three times in three sentences.
“The plan was to go through to the end and give my 100%. When we started, the plan was to see out Ferguson. But when Santner came on, the plan became not to give wickets to him and cover up later when the fast bowlers come on.”
Pakistan (P7, W3, L3, 7pts) now have to come up with a plan to beat Bangladesh (P7, W3, L3, 7pts), whom they meet in London on 5 July.
That done, to be assured of qualification, they will need England’s record to read P9, W4, L5, 8pts. Or, at best, P9, W5, L4, 10pts.
Morgan’s men are defiant, desperate and determined to go down fighting. But they are up against it.
Up against a New Zealand whose pride has been wounded and up against Virat Kohli’s proud India whose captain never suffers defeat gladly.
P9, W4, L5, 8pts will, therefore, require no obeah.