Independence Cup 1st T20
Pakistan 197/5 (Azam 86, Shehzad 39, Malik 38; Morkel 1/32)
World XI 177/7 (Du Plessis 29, Sammy 29*; Khan 2/28)
Pakistan won by 20 runs
CAPE TOWN – They came in their thousands. They cheered like they hadn’t done for seven years. And ultimately, it was their team that conquered.
But on Tuesday evening at the Gaddafi Stadium it was not about the result. The focus was on the cricket-loving people of Pakistan, who have been starved of major international matches since 2009 when terrorists attacked a Sri Lankan team bus en-route to the ground.
It was an occasion to savour. From the moment the World XI players were paraded around the ground prior to the toss in a traditional tuk-tuk, there was a cacophony of noise inside the 1996 World Cup final venue.
The action out in the middle didn’t disappoint either. Morné Morkel’s very first ball had the crowd up on its feet immediately when Pakistan’s Champions Trophy final hero Fakar Zahman found the boundary – albeit from a fortuitous inside edge.
There was nothing lucky, though, about the next ball, with Zahman slashing Morkel’s follow-up delivery powerfully through the point region for another boundary.
Two balls. Eight runs. It was high-tempo stuff.
And it didn’t slow down for one minute, with Morkel exacting revenge two balls later when Zahman guided a short delivery outside the off-stump straight to Hashim Amla at slip.
A calm head was required in this fervent atmosphere. Locals that frequented the Gaddafi Stadium from a previous era would have watched legends such as Zaheer Abbas stride to the crease at moments like these. Younger fans would still have fond memories of Mohammad Yousuf.
For this new generation of Pakistan fans, they will relish the opportunity of watching Babar Azam on home soil.
Azam is still a baby at 22, but he certainly has the potential to join greats like Abbas and Yousuf at the same dining table one day.
His statistics in both ODI and T20Is certainly suggest it – he averages 53.88 and 50.60 respectively – and he definitely showed on Tuesday evening that he has the class and temperament to back up the numbers.
On a two-paced pitch where no other batsman – besides veteran Shoaib Malik at the back-end of the Pakistan innings – could consistently hit through the line, Azam played fluently throughout his 52-ball stay.
And like yesteryear’s heroes Azam doesn’t utilise brute force to bludgeon the ball to the boundary. Instead, it is all about touch, placement and timing.
This was most evident during the 128-run partnership for the second wicket between Azam and Ahmed Shehzad.
Although it was critical to the eventual outcome of the game, Shehzad – the self-proclaimed “selfie” king of Pakistan cricket – swung like a rusty gate, while Azam simply caressed the ball.
It was a match-winning innings as the World XI never managed to quite recover from the loss of openers Tamim Iqbal and Hashim Amla to Rumman Raees in the last over of the powerplay.
Captain Faf du Plessis struck a breezy 29 off 18 balls, but the visitors were always lagging behind the run-rate due to teenage leg-spinner Shadab Khan’s double strike in the middle overs.
Even a late cameo from Caribbean slugger Darren Sammy (29 not out off 16 balls, 1x4, 3x6) could not get the visitors close.
The World XI will improve after their first run out together, but that is hardly the point for Tuesday night was all about celebrating international cricket returning to Pakistan.
And that was a resounding success.