Don't Pakistan make cricket look good? Watching them in action is like going to a theatre and not knowing at all how the movie will turn out. Fans underwent an all too familiar emotional roller coaster ride throughout the contest against New Zealand who were the clear favourites in the game and yet the fervent Pakistan supporters knew deep down that their side could surely shake the in-form Black Caps after routing South Africa earlier, riding high on confidence.
Shaheen Afridi stole the thunder from Muhammad Amir and reclaimed his status as the next big thing in Pakistan's pace arsenal. What a time for him to acclimatise to English conditions as his adjustment with the line and length of his bowling paid him rich dividends. He snapped three massive wickets that got Pakistan in a commanding position.
After being stunned against India in a rain-affected affair, Pakistan have bounced back emphatically. Sarfraz Ahmed marshalled his troops well against the Black Caps. He led from behind the stumps by taking a stunning one-handed grab diving to his right and removed, the sturdy veteran, Ross Taylor from the equation. He made quick changes in his bowling and set aggressive fielding but there was one inconsequential tactical error in this match when Sarfraz didn't go for the kill after getting early wickets and allowed Jimmy Neesham and Colin de Grandhomme partnership to blossom. However, take no credit away from Neesham who showed his defiance and batted through the tough phase, giving New Zealand a fighting chance to stage a comeback.
Babar Azam is an aberration in Pakistan's batting. He stepped up to the occasion big time and thumped the record books with a world-class century, emulating great players such as his role model and contemporary Virat Kohli, who seldom falls short of exhibiting his dexterity at the apex level. Babar's ton stands out from all the centuries scored in this world cup because the pitch at Edgbaston was a demonic one and a hunting ground for both spinners and pacers. The situation was dire when he came out to bat and negotiating the quality New Zealand bowling attack makes his century all the more praiseworthy.
When Mitchell Santner came to bowl, the turf was seething and he was getting the ball to grip insanely. Babar crafted 11 pristine boundaries that made him the object of crowd's chants. He got beaten by the extravagant turn on numerous occasions but Babar had a new kind of resolution the other day as he came back with answers to all snorters hurled at him. That sweep shot in the 42nd over against Santner was Babar's eureka moment as if he had understood the theory of batting on that surface and by then was toying with one of the most imposing bowling attacks.
Haris Sohail has really struck gold in the last two matches. He picked his knock from South Africa's game and executed a carbon copy of that, but against Kiwis, he was batting on a very unpropitious deck. He played with an astute awareness of the situation, soaked in tremendous pressure and applied himself superbly in a must-win game.
And what about the frenzied crowd? It felt like Pakistan were playing in Lahore or Karachi. The partisan jam-packed crowd roared on every wicket, boundary, single and even a dot! They didn't miss out a single opportunity to back Pakistan and were literally the 12th man in the stands that galvanized Sarfraz XI in the entire highs and lows of the match.