Taking Pakistan lightly is a massive risk: Shahid Afridi

Imad Wasim
Pakistan's bowler Imad Wasim (2nd R) celebrates the wicket of South Africa's AB de Villiers during their ICC Champions Trophy match on Wednesday. — AFP

The article, written by former Pakistan skipper Shahid Afridi, was originally published on icc-cricket.com.

Any team that takes Pakistan lightly takes a massive risk since the Men in Green have this amazing ability of bouncing back from the pits. For the umpteenth time, they have risen, registering a most unexpected win against top-ranked South Africa.

This was surely a different Pakistani team to the one that had turned up against India last Sunday. One could sense from the outset that the players were switched on for the big game that they had to win at all cost to remain in contention for the semi-finals.

I think the conditions at Edgbaston suited Pakistan and the bowlers made full use of a slow wicket where run-making wasn’t a straight forward task. A lot of credit goes to the spin bowling combination of Imad Wasim and Mohammad Hafeez who got the crucial initial breakthroughs to peg back the Proteas. Imad and Hafeez bowled immaculate lines and their lengths were also spot-on.

Pakistan was definitely in the driver’s seat after dismissing Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock and AB de Villiers cheaply. At that stage, young Hassan Ali bowled an inspired spell. Hassan came into the limelight during the first edition of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) where he represented my franchise Peshawar Zalmi. Hassan’s temperament impressed me greatly and today he bowled a sensational spell, making great use of the old ball, which was reversing considerably.

I don’t recall Pakistan fast bowlers delivering match-winning performances in recent years, hence Hassan’s three-wicket spell made me really happy. He is a mature bowler for his age, has decent pace and the ability of seaming the ball while he can also make the old ball reverse with impeccable control.

Hassan’s spell had reduced South Africa to 118 for six and at that juncture I felt that we could have rolled them over well under the 200-run mark.

The eventual score of 219 was in my opinion 20-30 runs more than what Sarfraz would have desired after the kind of start the bowlers had given. But having said that, I would like to appreciate David Miller for his fighting knock for South Africa which took his team past the 200-run mark.

Besides Hassan, the other positive was the batting of debutant Fakhar Zaman. The left-hander batted with a real degree of confidence in his maiden game and played some delightful shots against Wayne Parnell and Kagiso Rabada.

Fakhar has a bright future ahead of him if he can continue to play positively and with an uncluttered mind. Pakistan was jolted by two quick wickets but Hafeez and Babar Azam batted usefully to halt South Africa’s momentum.

Hafeez should have carried on after he had occupied the crease for a long time. Sometimes partnerships of 50-60 runs can go a long way, especially if the team is chasing a small target. Babar and Hafeez did play a vital role by calming the nerves of the dressing room but Hafeez should aim to contribute more significantly with the bat considering his vast experience at this level.

With the rain looming large, Shoaib Malik played a very important cameo which took the team past the DLS target. Malik has been a consistent performer in recent years and his breezy innings was crucial in the context of the game.

This win will surely raise the morale of the boys and I feel Pakistan can make it to the semi-finals if it continues to play positive cricket with an attacking and aggressive game plan against Sri Lanka in its last group match at Cardiff.

It is heartening to see Pakistan play the way it did and I hope it continues its good work and brings smiles on the faces of our passionate cricket fans. I also feel that Pakistan shouldn’t be ruled out of title contention anymore. The win today can make this side do some amazing things in the tournament. Once again write Pakistan off at your own peril!