In the end, the World XI was a group of players, while Pakistan were a team, and it finally showed.
In a clinical performance in all three departments, Pakistan outclassed Faf du Plessis’ men to clinch the third and final game of the Independence Cup by 33 runs in Lahore.
It was once again set up by a superb partnership between Ahmed Shehzad and Babar Azam, who added 102 off 57 balls. Shehzad narrowly missed out on a hundred, scoring 89 off 55. He seemed to be hurtling towards the landmark, whipping the crowd into a frenzy during the closing stages of Pakistan’s innings, when he launched Ben Cutting – who has had a series to forget – for three consecutive sixes in the 18th over.
World XI could never get any partnership going, and in a repeat of the first game, found themselves reduced to disjointed cameos as wickets tumbled. Tamim and Amla started positively once again, but once the South African was run out, any realistic chance of World XI toppling the home team disappeared. Thisara Perera kept his side’s slender chances alive, carting Shadab Khan for 24 runs in a contest that couldn’t quite live up to its competitive hype. But the previous game’s hero was merely denying the inevitable.
T20 cricket might be a batsman’s game, but Pakistan’s bowlers showed why in full form, they are the hottest property in world cricket. Against many other attacks, this game might have been alive well into the final over with the wealth of talent at World XI’s disposal. But other than one Shadab over, Pakistan never really let the opposition’s big hitters free their arms. The fast bowlers, in particular, were superb – Rumman Raees even bowled a maiden over – and time and again, David Miller and Darren Sammy tried to open up only to be tied down by yorkers that seemed to be landing on a sixpence. As far as T20 cricket is concerned, scoring big runs is just half the job done. Pakistan’s bowlers ensured they kept their end of the bargain.
Shehzad is an unlikely answer to the question: who is the only Pakistani to score a T20I hundred? But for a while today, it looked like he might get there a second time. Almost batting through the innings, Shehzad was timing the ball superbly right from the start. And for a change, he seemed to be placing it, too, finding the gaps that so often elude him. As his innings developed from just another start to a solid knock, one barely had time to notice that it had very quickly become a series-winning performance.
This was a day marked by run-outs; for the first 19 overs of the Pakistan innings, the only two wickets that had fallen had gone that way. We were still less than halfway there, three World XI batsmen also failing to make their ground. In a game otherwise memorable for its quality, they left the final scorecard looking a little untidy.
One could pick either of the two instances in this game that saw three consecutive sixes, but that would be a little too typical. And this tour is nothing if not atypical, and the final game was marked by a five-minute spell worthy of the occasion. With Amla and Tamim having gotten World XI off to a flying start, Pakistan might have struggled with the memories of Wednesday, when they had been unable to defend a similarly high score. But on came Raees, who you might have forgiven for lacking confidence after failing to defend 12 in the final over in the second game. But the over he bowled to George Bailey, almost imperceptibly, took the game out of World XI’s reach. Varying his pace and length, he beat the former Australian captain several times in the over and registered the only maiden of the series. The asking rate crept, and soon galloped away, over the hills and out of sight.