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This Is Pakistan, After All

07/03/2015 6:17 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Pakistan's captain Misbah Ul Haq, left, and teammate Shahid Afridi smile as they leave the field after their 29 run win over South Africa in their Cricket World Cup Pool B match in Auckland, New Zealand, Saturday, March 7, 2015. (AP Photo/Ross Setford)

This article is from Cricbuzz.

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By Jamie Alter

Pakistan versus South Africa at Eden Park, ground of the notoriously short straight boundaries. Pakistan are wounded, desperate. South Africa are upbeat, riding on AB de Villiers' pyrotechnics and Hashim Amla's prolific form. Twice they've crossed 400. Pakistan struggled to 339 against UAE. The knives are out, the post mortem being prepared. This is Pakistan, after all.

You've watched Pakistan get flattened by West Indies in Christchurch and beat UAE unconvincingly in Napier. You've seen Misbah-ul-Haq stare into the distance when fielding questions from the media, his words succinct but laced with frustration, at times borderline resignation even. You've heard of in-fighting, read of the resignation and rejection of the team's fielding coach in the same day, seen one player argue with another member of the coaching staff, another takes aside a reporter and questions his choice of words. After one loss, Misbah joked to a bunch of journalists that in the next match he would play 11 bowlers, and in the next, 11 batsmen. This is Pakistan, after all.

South Africa opt to field. There's rain due. An obligatory early wicket falls. Heads drop, fingers tighten, keyboards flutter. This is Pakistan, after all.

When Sarfraz Ahmed takes the attack back to South Africa, hitting three sixes in one JP Duminy over, you lean forward in your seat. Something's stirring, the difference can be felt. You think about a couple of nights ago, after the win over UAE, when Pakistan coach Waqar Younis is reminded by a scribe that Moin Khan, the chief selector, said Sarfraz was picked as the third opener. You think of the look on Waqar's face as he pauses, finds the correct words to reply with. You chuckle. This is Pakistan, after all.

Pakistan's Sarfraz Ahmed rests on his bat after he was run out for 49 runs during their Cricket World Cup Pool B match against South Africa in Auckland, New Zealand, Saturday, March 7, 2015. (AP Photo/Ross Setford)

Sarfraz is making a statement. He looks set for a big innings. You think of his exaggerated reaction after scoring a fifty in an ODI as opener against New Zealand in the UAE last year. Then, on 49 from 49 balls, the hyperactive Sarfraz makes the mistake of chancing a South African arm on a second run and ends up diving into his crease a fraction too late. This is Pakistan, after all.

Younis Khan, drafted back into the team, plays a couple of nice shots, looks settled, unhurried. Plays out Steyn and Morne Morkel well. Is this the day he so desperately yearns for? Then he gets out to AB de Villiers. Yes, de Villiers. A leading edge, of all ways. This is Pakistan, after all.

"During those 25 minutes of interruption in play, a Pakistani reporter jokes that this is good. "We'll take one point for the washout." This is Pakistan, after all."

When Misbah potters around 30 balls for his first eight runs, you shake your head. Umar Akmal comes and goes for 13, the score 175 for 5. Then rain arrives from the east, a grey sleet across the ground. During those 25 minutes of interruption in play, a Pakistani reporter jokes that this is good. "We'll take one point for the washout." This is Pakistan, after all.

The rain stops. When you go out of the media box and sit in a seat in the top tier to get a feel for the crowd, another Pakistani journalist sitting next to you pumps his fists when Shahid Afridi swings Dale Steyn for six. When Afridi tries it next ball and gets out, the journalist curses and bangs the armrest of his seat. This is Pakistan, after all.

In the last 16 balls of the innings since Misbah steers Steyn to third man, Pakistan score three singles and a leg bye for the loss of two wickets. Bowled out inside their given 47 overs. Another weak batting performance. Only one fifty, two scores between 37 and 49, three between 13 and 22. This is Pakistan, after all.

Quinton de Kock edges the second ball from Mohammad Irfan to Sarfraz behind the stumps. Pakistan are pumped. But then you know that young de Kock hasn't scored a run all tournament, and that South Africa have become used to starting from an early loss. Hashim Amla doesn't break a sweat as he carves out his first 32 runs in boundaries. This is Pakistan, after all.

Eating dinner during the start of South Africa's chase, you check the score of the Ireland-Zimbabwe game. Ed Joyce has a quick century and Ireland are looking at at least 300. Two journalists are discussing who Pakistan will face in the quarter-finals. You aren't convinced they will make it that far. At just that moment, Faf du Plessis hooks and pulls Rahat Ali for six and four in the same over. The momentum is with South Africa.

"Boom. Four wickets fall for ten runs in 31 balls."

Boom. Four wickets fall for ten runs in 31 balls. Rahat has his revenge, extracting du Plessis for 27 with one that climbs up. Second catch for Sarfraz. Wahab Riaz gets another to lift sharply, Amla nicks it to Sarfraz who takes it one handed when falling to his right. Rilee Rossouw mistimes the hook off Wahab to fine leg. David Miller makes 0 from 13 balls, caught dead in front by Rahat. How the innings has shifted. This is Pakistan, after all.

In the washroom, you meet the Pakistan media manager. Could this be the day, you ask, now that Pakistan have taken five wickets in 16 overs. "We need to take ten," comes a battle-weary reply. This is Pakistan, after all.

As you settle back at your desk, de Villiers whips two sixes in three balls from Wahab. The South African supporters in the stand erupt. Moments later, Yasir Shah fumbles at third man to allow de Villiers a boundary. This is Pakistan, after all.

De Villiers threatens to hit South Africa out of a deep hole and fashion a famous win. Wahab returns, de Villiers laps him for six, top-edges him for four. Wahab kicks the ground. Misbah puts hands on hips. Behind the stumps, Sarfraz looks agitated. Surely de Villiers cannot do it all on his own? This is Pakistan, after all.

And then, boom. Sohail Khan is brought back. De Villiers charges and gets an edge to Sarfraz, his fifth catch of the innings, to draw level with Moin Khan and Umar Akmal's record. Moments later, as the rain returns at a slant, Sarfraz becomes the record holder for Pakistan wicketkeepers in ODIs when Imran Tahir - born and raised in Pakistan - nicks off against Wahab. The team goes berserk, diving into a huddle. Whoops, shouts, the whole shebang.

pakistan south africa

Pakistan's captain Misbah Ul Haq, left, and teammate Shahid Afridi smile as they leave the field after their 29 run win over South Africa in their Cricket World Cup Pool B match in Auckland, New Zealand, Saturday, March 7, 2015. (AP Photo/Ross Setford)

You lean back in your chair, amazed. You clap. You are exhilarated. Sarfraz, who couldn't find a way into the XI, and of whom Misbah had to field many probing questions over the past few weeks, takes a Pakistan record six catches. He is named Man of the Match. Incredible. This is Pakistan, after all.

"Did South Africa choke? Or was it Pakistan's storied, mad-cap unpredictability? History tells us that if there' one cricket team capable of being deplorable one moment and delightful the next, it is Pakistan, after all. No one displays unpredictability better than Pakistan, after all."

Did South Africa choke? Or was it Pakistan's storied, mad-cap unpredictability? History tells us that if there' one cricket team capable of being deplorable one moment and delightful the next, it is Pakistan, after all. No one displays unpredictability better than Pakistan, after all.

After the match, Waqar Younis fielded questions on Pakistan's bounce-back-ability and unpredictability. He is told that de Villiers reckoned Pakistan's bowlers didn't turn on the heat that much, it was just a case of poor South African batting. "He may not have felt it, but the others certainly did," replies Waqar with a smile.

Then, one question annoys him. He is demanded an admittance that Pakistan kept Sarfraz out of the team until today because of internal politics. He stifles his frustration, starts to reply. He is interrupted by another bolder question, suggesting a clash between him and Sarfraz. "I think we should end this press conference now, because I don't have time for your stupid questions." Waqar is gone. This is Pakistan, after all.

One match remains for Misbah's team. Ireland in Adelaide, eight days from now. The longest gap in the tournament that Pakistan have had. Theyve played three matches in seven days, winning all three. Passage to the quarter-finals is not secured yet. Ireland, of course, beat them in the 2007 World Cup to cue a surprise early exit. Having rediscovered the hunger that they often lose, Pakistan have given themselves and the tournament the match both so desperately needed. But you cannot predict what will happen in Adelaide.

This is Pakistan, after all.

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