| Mohammed Yousuf, who top-scored for Pakistan with 71, in action in Mohali on Wednesday. (Reuters)
Chandigarh: New Zealand scored a double victory Wednesday: They beat Pakistan and the dew in neighbouring Mohali and, in the process, became the first team to make the Champions Trophy semi-finals. In a chain reaction, the 51-run win put Sri Lanka out of the tournament.
The other qualifier from the group will be known Friday, when Pakistan face South Africa. That’s now a quarter final.
“We made too many mistakes... We had our moments, but didn’t build on the stages we had momentum... Now, we’ve got a very tough game against South Africa,” remarked Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer. He was dead right.
First, the Pakistani bowlers were profligate despite conditions which (initially, at least) should’ve suited them and, then, the excellent Mohammed Yousuf-Shoaib Malik partnership — 94 for the fifth-wicket — wasn’t taken advantage of. Even the blazing start from Mohammed Hafeez’s blade (43 from 46 balls) came to nought.
The fielding wasn’t great either, with Kamran Akmal failing to run out Scott Styris when on 16. He went on to score the maximum, 86.
So, Younis Khan’s decision to field, taken to avoid bowling with a wet ball, didn’t work. Worse, for somebody who likes to stamp his presence, he failed for the second time in as many matches. The pressure is very much on Pakistan’s stand-in captain.
It was, of course, a terrific day for New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming. He scored 80, the innings’ second highest (after Styris, whose fitness is being monitored), marshalled the bowling resources admirably (in truly trying circumstances) and had a direct hand in Yousuf’s dismissal.
“Yes, it has been special... I dedicate my Man-of-the-Match award to the team... My players deserve it,” he told The Telegraph. Fleming is now the captain to have led in the most ODIs (194).
Earlier, interacting with the Media, Fleming confessed he couldn’t “ask for more.” For entirely different reasons, a young fan won’t forget Wednesday either — he took a Fleming six right above his eyes. A proverbial close shave, if ever there was one.
Spearhead Shane Bond made a huge impact, something acknowledged by his captain. “He’s a guy who doesn’t just have extra pace, but is a smart bowler... He knows the subtleties of bowling the slower one... He has come off a hard winter (recuperating) and I expect he’s going to have the odd pain...”
Pakistan. clearly, missed Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammed Asif. However, as Woolmer put it: “What can we do' There’s no point harping about it...” He added: “We have bowlers with experience, but they didn’t get it right at the death...”
Fleming, incidentally, handed Pakistan a compliment when he said: “We are always worried when we play them... They’re so brilliant... That we got Abdul Razzaq so cheap (six, which made it 195 for six) made it easier... In the past, he has really hurt us...”
Asked whether the eight-day break between the first match (versus Sri Lanka, in Jaipur) and the one Wednesday affected momentum, Woolmer replied: “It can’t be an excuse... In a competition such as this, you’ve got to create momentum... Under pressure, we didn’t react the way we ought to have...”
Footnote: The spraying of APSA-80 (a chemical used in the farming industry) before the match didn’t exactly make a huge difference. Woolmer, though, felt it at least “didn’t allow” the dew to settle on the grass. He quipped: “The chemical has a future if matches will be played in dewey conditions...” Fleming, somewhat typically, insisted his team didn’t allow the conditions to distract. “We wanted to get on with the job...” They did it with elan.