LAHORE – Babar Azam showed why he is considered the future of Pakistan batting, as his 52-ball 86 carried Pakistan to a comfortable 20-run win over the World XI in the first Twenty20 International of the Independence Cup at the Gaddafi Stadium today.
After Fakhar Zaman was dismissed in the first over, Azam put on a 122-run partnership with Ahmed Shahzad to set Pakistan up for a big finish. Shoaib Malik and Imad Wasim then helped Pakistan score 48 runs in the last three overs to finish with 197, their fourth-highest T20 total.
World XI’s weak bowling attack was laid surgically bare, with only their specialist bowlers – Morne Morkel and Imran Tahir – providing a semblance of control.
However, the opening pair of Hashim Amla and Tamim Iqbal would be the envy of most sides. Hashim Amla was at his elegant best, providing that unique mix: grace and a brisk strike rate. At least one of them needed to bat through, but both fell in the 5th over, and the target began to fade into the distance. Faf du Plessis kept World XI in the hunt, taking 22 off a Hasan Ali over, but in a chase that cried out for a substantial contribution, World XI had only cameos to offer.
Morkel is the side’s only specialist fast bowler, and he relies far more heavily on bounce than Lahore’s pitch could bear. His short deliveries sat up for Babar. The part-time medium pace of Ben Cutting, Darren Sammy, and Thisara Perera, who went for 51 in his four overs, proved to be far too easy for the Pakistan batsmen. World XI looked to have conceded about 20 runs too many, and it was fitting that that was the winning margin.
Azam’s star continues to shine. The 23-year-old had only ever played one match in Pakistan in his career – an ODI against Zimbabwe – but he showed he could handle the pressure with a classy innings that left World XI in his wake right from the start. He seemed set to become the second Pakistan player to score a T20 hundred, but holed out to David Miller on the midwicket boundary as Pakistan pushed for 200.
The difference between both teams’ premier spinners was on full display, with Tahir slightly off colour, often dragging the ball short, and in general, a little intimidated by the idea of flight. He conceded 34 off his four overs. Imad Wasim, who opened the Pakistan bowling, knew exactly what was required of him. He starved the batsmen of scoring shots, giving away just 22 in four overs. With a target of 198, the asking rate was only ever going in one direction.
The first over of the game was Pakistan’s batting in a nutshell. Fakhar Zaman inside-edged the first ball for a boundary, before timing an exquisite square cut off the second delivery for four. Two balls later, he nicked Morkel to Hashim Amla at wide slip. Ahmed Shehzad then played two attractive drives that went straight to fielders. It doesn’t matter where they are, that’s how Pakistan play anyway.
Pakistan lead the three-match series 1-0, with two games to go. The second T20I will be played at Gaddafi Stadium on Wednesday.
Afterward, the game Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed thanked the crowd, the World XI and the Pakistan Cricket Board for making the series in Pakistan possible.
“It was an important game. Babar and Shehzad played really well. Shoaib Malik did well towards the end. There’s lot of talent in the domestic circuit and I’m sure many youngsters will get their chances in the future if they keep working on getting better. I want to thank the crowd and PCB for making this a grand success. It has been organized very well and I’m delighted,” he said.
World XI captain du Plessis added: “It was a good game and I thought Pakistan played really well. They have great variations in their bowling attack and ours was probably a bit one-dimensional. We got starts, but couldn’t kick on. Quick turn-around and make sure we rest up and come fresh tomorrow. It’s great to play in front of the Pakistani crowd and hopefully the stadium will be full for the next two games.”
Pakistanis have been starved of international cricket on their home turf following the terrorist attack on the visiting Sri Lankan team in 2009.