From off-colour to with flying colours, Pakistan openers tame NZ

From off-colour to with flying colours, Pakistan openers tame NZ

SYDNEY : Pakistan’s hitherto misfiring opening pair of Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan chose Thursday’s semi-final against New Zealand to roar back into form, combining in a century stand to put the 2009 champions into the final of the T20 World Cup.

Rizwan and skipper Babar headed into the tournament as the top two T20 batters in the official rankings but endured run droughts in the group stage even though Pakistan made the last four after the Netherlands upset South Africa in Group 2.

None of them managed a fifty in the Super 12 matches and Babar’s strike rate of 61.90 prompted demands to vacate the opener’s slot for a more attacking Mohammad Haris.

Pakistan’s bowlers and their middle order carried them into the last four but Babar and Rizwan regained their mojo just in time to put them one victory away from a second T20 World Cup title.

After just one 50-plus stand in the previous five matches, Babar and Rizwan forged a 105-run partnership to set up Pakistan’s seven-wicket victory against last year’s runners-up New Zealand.

“Such up and down in form is part and parcel of the game, every player goes through such phases,” Babar said after their victory.

“I could not perform well in the first three matches but it could not shake my believe in myself. My team mates also kept their faith in me.”

Babar appeared to have luck on his side too.

The 28-year-old could have been dismissed for a golden duck but New Zealand wicketkeeper Devon Conway floored a tough catch diving to his right.

The elegant right-hander raced to a 38-ball fifty, smashing even boundaries in his fluent 53 before holing out in the deep.

Rizwan needed two balls fewer for his half-century, offering a silent prayer after reaching the mark with a single off Ish Sodhi.

Rizwan was also caught in the deep after making 57 having put Pakistan on the brink of their victory.

“When you perform, it’s very satisfying and I try to perform every time I go out,” Babar said of his return to form.

“Today both Rizwan and I decided to attack in the powerplay… it gave us a momentum which we didn’t drop.”

Pakistan will face either India or England in Sunday’s final in Melbourne.

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