One month ago, when Pakistan lost its World Cup opener against India, major Pakistani cities witnessed rioting in the streets as if the nation had lost the World Cup even before it could properly get underway. In reporting that match on these pages, this author had written that Pakistan could still qualify for the knock-out phase despite the loss against India. That has now come true. In between, they lost their second match as well but bounced back superbly in later stages and even scored an impressive win against tournament favorites South Africa. That must have helped their waning confidence. Now they are just two matches away from even scoring another World Cup win. In contrast, Ireland had won both their opening matches but couldn’t keep the tempo as the tournament progressed. Regardless, they created a condition, whereby the last two quarterfinal spots in Pool B remained shrouded in mystery until the very last match of the tournament’s league phase. In Adelaide on Sunday, Ireland won the toss and batted first but could not emulate their thunderous batting performance seen in some of their league matches. Only their skipper, William Porterfield stood tall on a historic day and came up with his seventh ODI hundred. Otherwise the Irish batting just fell away with Gary Wilson being the next highest scorer at 29. Pakistan pacers bowled out Ireland for 237 in 50 overs to set up a 238-run chase for themselves. Batting with new determination Pakistan began with a solid 120-run opening stand. The biggest solace for Pakistan was Sarfraz Ahmed’s timely return to form and Ahmed Shehzad scoring like he always does. Sarfraz remained unbeaten on 101 and though Pakistan lost three wickets, they still crossed the target with 23 balls remaining. Pakistan had to beat Ireland for a place in the quarterfinals but Ireland’s loss indirectly benefitted the West Indies, who had beaten UAE earlier but were keeping their fingers crossed.
After Pakistan suffered two back-to-back defeats, their pace bowlers changed the scenario for them in later matches. Against Ireland, Mohammad Irfan could not be included due to injury but the trio of Rahat Ali, Sohail Khan and Wahab Riaz disturbed Ireland’s batting rhythm decisively. Porterfield lost his opening partner Paul Stirling in the fourth over but the captain moved on with Ed Joyce, who provided excellent support from one end as Porterfield kept the scoreboard ticking. After Joyce got out, Niall O’Brien stepped into Joyce’s boots to help Porterfield and after him, it was the turn of Andy Balbirnie. The captain didn’t slow down even as wickets kept falling at the other end. But after adding 48 for the fifth wicket with Gary Wilson, Porterfield departed with an extremely creditable 107 off 131 balls as Ireland’s score read 182/5 in the 39th over. Pakistan’s pace bowlers bowled remarkably in the death overs and restricted Ireland to 237.
238 was not such a great score that Pakistan could not chase. The task became even easier with Sarfraz Ahmed striking form just at the right time. With Ahmed Shehzad, Sarfraz added 120 runs for the first wicket before Shehzad threw his wicket away. By this time Shehzad had scored 63 off 71 balls and he looked good for more. But when Stuart Thompson bowled a short ball that was away on the off side, Shehzad chose to pull it on the on-side. He could easily have left that alone but his act induced a top edge for an easy catch to Ed Joyce at mid-on. Pakistan lost two more unnecessary wickets. Haris Sohail fell to a misunderstanding between himself and Sarfraz. After Sarfraz played to Dockrell, he just started running as did Sohail from the bowlers end. But suddenly Sarfraz stopped midway to run back. That left no time lor Sohail to get back as the fielders spilled the stumps. After scoring 39 off 46 balls, Misbah-Ul-Haq disturbed the stumps with his leg as he tried to play a shot too close to the stumps on his back-foot. By that time Pakistan had reached 208/3 and victory was almost in their bag. The only thing that remained for Pakistan was Sarfraz’s century. That came towards the very end as Pakistan ended their innings at 241/3 with 23 balls left. They not only let themselves in the knock-out phase but brought cheers for the West Indians, who had been as eagerly waiting for it in faraway Napier after beating UAE by six wickets in the 41st match of CWC 2015. Ireland’s loss was West Indies’ gain on Sunday.