Babar Azam’s century inspired Pakistan to a six-wicket victory over New Zealand at Edgbaston and turned up the heat on England in the race for a World Cup semi-final place.
The 24-year-old struck an unbeaten 101 off 127 balls, in a free-flowing innings that included 11 fours on a challenging used pitch, with his 126-run fourth-wicket partnership with Haris Sohail (68) easing their side home with five balls spare.
Earlier, a sensational opening bowling spell from Shaheen Shah Afridi had set the tone early for Pakistan, as the 19-year-old seamer dismissed Colin Munro (12), Ross Taylor (3) and Tom Latham (1) to boast figures of 3-9 from five overs, which included two maidens, and reduced the Black Caps to 46-4.
Jimmy Neesham (97no) and Colin de Grandhomme (64) counter-punched sharing a 132-run sixth-wicket partnership and the latter smashes the final ball of their innings for six to set Pakistan 238 for victory – a target which proved short.
The win moves Pakistan within one point of England in fourth place, the final semi-final spot, in the table with matches against Afghanistan and Bangladesh to come.
Meanwhile, Eoin Morgan’s side face tough tests in their final two encounters of the competition, against India at Edgbaston on Sunday, live on Sky Sports, before meeting New Zealand in Durham on Wednesday, July 3.
Following a delayed start due to a wet outfield, following heavy overnight rain, Kane Williamson’s decision to bat first on the used pitch quickly looked like a poor one as Mohammad Amir bowled Martin Guptill (5) with his first ball, via an inside edge.
An exceptional spell from Shaheen then put Pakistan in the driving seat as Munro edged to first slip and Taylor and Latham both edged the 19-year-old pace bowler behind to wicketkeeper Sarfaraz Ahmed.
Spinner Shadab Khan brilliant drew Black Caps skipper Williamson forward to a turning ball and faint edge behind was gobbled up by Sarfaraz to leave New Zealand 83-5 as Pakistan backed up a fine bowling performance with an equally impressive outing in the field.
In danger of being bowled out for less than 150, Neesham and De Grandhomme began their sixth-wicket partnership watchfully but with overs running out the pair put on 132 runs off only 126 balls, helping to drag New Zealand up to 237-6 from their 50 overs.
Despite the relatively low total, Fakhar fell to Trent Boult – caught at first slip – and Imam was brilliantly caught by a diving Guptill at point.
Babar and Mohammad Hafeez’s 56-run third-wicket partnership looked to be edging Pakistan towards their target without much alarm only for the latter to foolishly gifted his wicket to Williamson, looking to launch the part-time spinner out of the stadium but only succeeding in picking out Lockie Ferguson at cow corner.
However, Pakistan’s talisman Babar moved passed 3,000 ODI runs – the second fastest to reach the milestone from 68 innings after Hashim Amla – and brought up his fifty off 65 balls before reaching his 10th ODI hundred.
Haris chipped in with 68 off 76 balls only to be run out by Guptill going for a quick single with two runs needed but captain Sarfaraz struck a full toss away for a single to seal the win, to the delight of the frenetic crowd.
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