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May 28, 1999

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Pakistan blitz continues

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Pakistan made the Super Six in style, with yet another thumping win, this time over New Zealand. Who, on the day, did little to convince us that their rating as the most fancied of the outsiders is really deserved.

With four wins in four games, Pakistan now have eight points and only Bangladesh left to oppose them in the group. More to the point, they have ensured that they go into the Super Six with four full points -- which in turn means that unless they play awfully badly, they are certain to go through into the semifinals. And that must be a heady feeling for Akram and his men.

Stephen Fleming inserted the opposition on winning the toss -- more, it appeared, to deny the Pakistan bowlers first use of slightly overcast conditions and a possibly lively pitch.

The Kiwi opening bowlers, Nash and Allott, had eminently forgettable first over which allowed Anwar and Afridi to get off the blocks in style, to the tune of 23 runs in the first two overs. However, Anwar in this tournament has been struggling, as has Afridi -- and once the two bowlers settled down to a good line, both openers went quickly back into the hut.

Abdul Razzaq came in again at number three, and it is beginning to look like we will have to revise his designation as pinch hitter -- 26 balls to get off the mark, and a painfully slow 33 off 82 balls, appears to confirm him more in the role of anchor. Increasingly, it seems that the Pakistan management is persisting with him at number three in order to buffer the likes of Inzamam and Ijaz Ahmed against the new ball, and to prevent a slide.

Ijaz, though, seems the more logical number three judging by the way he's playing these days -- relying on working the ball around, rather than setting himself for the big hits, to keep the board ticking along at a brisk pace. He has the knack of being able to pick gaps in the most close-set field to work the ball into, and I'd be very surprised if he continues to bat at four for much longer.

Inzamam's running between wickets -- today Ijaz was the victim of his 'yes, no, hang on a minute let's talk about this' style of calling -- had everyone in splits, but when he is flowing, there are few more destructive batsmen in the game. Chastened by the dismissal of Ijaz and the rapid exits of Salim Malik, Moin Khan and Wasim Akram, Inzamam settled down to guide the side through, batting through the innings and pushing the accelerator to the floor in the final few overs to finish on a good 73 off 61 balls.

The Kiwis rely on their slow-slower-slowest bowlers to peg the run rate back, but the Pakistan batsmen are masters of the nudge and the glide -- barring the ever economical Larsen and Dion Nash, none of them were able to impose any kind of restrictions on the Pakistan batsmen.

The Shoaib Akthar psychosis struck at the outset of the Kiwi innings, to have the chasing side two down for 12 inside 6 overs. Akthar was concentrating on running in, slinging them through as fast as he could and keeping them off or thereabouts. Obviously petrified by his pace, first Astle -- who has been having a nightmare of a World Cup this time round -- and then Horne fell pushing at straight deliveries outside off, bat away from body and feet static.

Akram was bowling within himself, but even thus he was good enough to take out the dangerous Craig McMillan with a superbly disguised slower ball which McMillan, attempting to cut and then changing his mind, watched onto his leading edge and from there to mid on.

With three going inside the first 15, the Kiwis were pretty much out of the game right there. Stephen Fleming played himself in to some semblance of form with a long stay out in the middle, and looked very good against Akthar -- mainly because the movement of his back foot was always very decisive, and helped him get right behind the line to everything. In partnership with Twose, Fleming attempted to construct a partnership of sorts, but Saqlain -- another bowler who seemed a touch under par on the day -- got him mishitting a sweep, and that pretty much ended the Kiwi resistance.

Azhar Mahmood, with two strikes off successive balls, quashed even the most optimistic, getting late inswing to pin first Cairns, then Parore, in front of the wicket. The latter might feel a bit aggrieved, since the replay showed the faintest of edges onto the pad, but the decision didn't alter the outcome of the game in any significant fashion.

Harris is a reputed big hitter, as the Indians for example have found out to their cost -- but in this innings, he batted as if some prankster had tied his shoelaces together. Nash in fact looked the far better player, making us wonder what he was doing that far down the order.

All hopes of winning wiped out, the Kiwis settled down to play out the overs, with an eye presumably on ensuring that their run rate didn't slip too far down. At the time of writing this, the Kiwi dressing room must resemble math class, as the think tank works out what they have to do in their final game against Scotland.

Pakistan, for their part, have no such worries. And the ease with which they've cruised into the Super Six is a tribute to a team that has played some superb cricket and, more importantly, come together into a hard-fighting outfit that is going to take an enormous amount of beating.


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