By Ravi Shastri
Pakistan had one batsman determined to make his mark on this World Cup,
and one bowler who was 10 miles per hour quicker than anything seen in
the first semi-final. This was two classy players too much for New
Zealand who went down without a whimper in the first semi-final.
For five weeks, bowlers were fortunate to see very little of Saeed
Anwar. Either he got out himself, playing a silly shot, or he was denied
the luck which can change an exciting 25 into a matchwinning 125. But
the small-made left-hander -- who has some of the biggest shots in
limited overs cricket-was simply too good a player to be kept quiet for
too long. A hundred against Zimbabwe ensured a place for Pakistan in the
semi-final, and another one here, has put his side in the final.
Anwar is to Pakistan what Sachin Tendulkar is to India, and his return
to form has seen the batting become suddenly formidable. Once he gets
his eye in, Anwar can be unstoppable, as New Zealand were to discover to
their misfortune today. He has all the shots, and so much time to play
them that he would worry any bowler.
But any talk of the most valuable players for Pakistan must include
Shoaib Akhtar, the young fast bowler with the big heart who was rightly
chosen man of the match by Richie Benaud. The manner in which he has
recovered from a couple of poor matches speaks volumes of his commitment
as well as cricketing sense. In this match, he was simply spectacular.
This was a plumb wicket, not unlike what is obtained in the
sub-continent, which made it easier for the batsmen than bowlers. Which
is what made Shoaib's performance that much more significant. He bent
his back and worked up pace like fire to keep the new zealand batsmen on
tenterhooks. He was a little expensive, but he also took wickets, which
is of the essence. The swinging yorkers, the cleverly disguised slower
ball, the snorter-this young man has shown a vast repertoire, enough to
mark him out as one of the best in the world today.
New Zealand did well to score 241 -- thanks in some way to the huge
number of extras -- but did not have the players to take the total to
260 and beyond. Many batsmen got a start, nobody got a half century,
which showed up the lack of real class in the line-up.
New Zealand also did not have the bowlers to exploit the conditions
adequately. They lacked somebody of Shoaib's pace, and had no spinners
to check the strokes and flow of runs from Anwar and Wasti on a track
that had some help for the really quick and the guileful slow bowlers.
New Zealand's opening bowlers had an off day, and helped Pakistan's
openers to set up a strong base from which to press for victory. Anwar,
the seasoned campaigner, was quickly into his stride after gauging the
pace and bounce of the wicket, but he would not have got that far
without the support of Wasti who was very, very impressive.
Pakistan did not need too many batsmen after these two had put on a
record 194 runs for the first wicket. It was a real drubbing for New
Zealand, and in this there was a stern message for South Africa and
Australia who play tomorrow's other semi-final. Watch out for Pakistan.
They are hot!