A rejuvenated Pakistan lifted their game when it mattered the most and stormed into the T20 World Cup final with a convincing seven-wicket win over New Zealand here on Wednesday.
Pakistan first restricted New Zealand to 152 for four on a slow SCG track and then chased down the target with consummate ease, riding on skipper Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan’s attacking fifties to book their place in the final after 13 years.
This will be Pakistan’s third appearance in the T20 World Cup final. They had finished runners-up to India in the inaugural edition in 2007 before claiming the title two years later.
The win over New Zealand, last edition’s runners-up side, also kept the prospect of a mouth-watering India-Pakistan final in Melbourne on Sunday alive, provided Rohit Sharma’s men beat England in the second semifinal in Adelaide on Thursday.
Chasing 153, Babar rode on his luck to register his highest score in the tournament — 53 off 42 balls — while Rizwan made 57 off 43 deliveries as Pakistan romped home with five balls to spare.
Babar and Rizwan got Pakistan off to a blazing start, going hammer and tongs against the Kiwi bowlers. Unlike New Zealand, the Pakistani openers looked at ease with the pace of the surface.
Known for their brilliant fielding, the Kiwis looked a different side on Wednesday as they struggled on the field. Babar’s innings, however, was far from convincing as he struggled initially. He got a life when at nought when he pushed at an away-going delivery from Trent Boult in the opening over but Devon Conway grassed the one-handed chance.
Babar grabbed the opportunity with both hands and slowly got his game together, while Rizwan went ballistic from the word go.
The duo didn’t the give the likes of Boult, Tim Southee and Lockie Fergusson the chance to settle down, racing to 55 for no loss in powerplay.
Once the spin duo of Mitchell Santner and Ish Sodhi were introduced, Rizwan used the sweep shot well, while Babar was brilliant square off the wicket.
New Zealand finally got the breakthrough in the 13th over when Babar was holed out by Daryll Mitchell at long-on off Boult but by then Pakistan were comfortably placed at 105.
Rizwan couldn’t finish off the game, holing out to Mitchell off Boult but it was all but over by that time.
Earlier, Mitchell hit a timely unbeaten fifty to help New Zealand post a decent 152 for four on a slow SCG pitch.
Opting to bat, New Zealand batters found the going tough on a used SCG track as they struggled to connect the ball due to the slow nature of the surface.
Mitchell (53 not out off 35) and skipper Kane Williamson (46 off 42) resurrected New Zealand’s innings after early jolts to take their side past the 150-run mark.
Finn Allen got the innings off to a confident start, hitting Shaheen Afridi’s (2/24) full delivery down the ground past mid-on for a boundary.
Afridi, however, rapped Allen on the pads in the next delivery and onfield umpire Marius Erasmus took time before raising his finger. But the batter got a reprieve as TV replays showed it was an inside edge on to the pads.
But Afridi got his man in the very next ball with another LBW shout and this time it was dead straight, even though Allen went for an unsuccessful review.
Other opener Conway (21) tried to force the innings with three fours but was run out by a direct throw from Shadab Khan at mid-off.
But new man Glenn Phillips lasted just eight balls, top-edging left-arm spinner Mohammad Nawaz straight back to him as New Zealand slumped to 49 for three in eight overs.
Thereafter, Williamson and Mitchell held the innings together and shared 68 runs off 50 balls for the fourth wicket.
While Williamson played the role of anchor, mostly dealing in ones and twos with occasional boundaries in between, Mitchell was at his aggressive best.
The duo brought up their fifty-run stand in just 36 balls but failed to force the pace towards the end as boundaries and sixes were hard to come by.
Williamson fell four short of a fifty, bowled by Afridi in the 17th over with a slower off-cutter as the batter went for a scoop over the keeper’s head.
After Williamson’s departure, Mitchell kept the Kiwis’ innings going and reached his fifty off 32 balls.
With James Neesham (16 not out), Mitchell stitched an unconquered 35 off 22 balls but failed to give the final flourish as Pakistan bowlers made a strong comeback.